Moody bids farewell to WWII Flying Tiger
By Mark “Radio” Godwin, 23d Wing Historian
/ Published June 16, 2021
MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --
The loss of Maj. Don Miller on Jan. 6, 2021, was felt throughout the Flying Tiger community.
Mary Straley and Ron Miller — Don’s daughter and son — wanted to do a memorial service, but the COVID-19 pandemic did not allow large gatherings. Mary and Ron waited until states started opening up to allow more people to gather in one place.
Straley reached out to me on May 12, 2021, and invited me to her father’s memorial service on June 12, 2021. I was honored by the invite and I wasn’t going to miss the memorial.
I met Don Miller for the first time in March 2019 at the Flying Tiger Reunion in Destin, Florida. Capt. Randall “Otter” Ott talked Ron Miller into allowing me to interview his father. Ron questioned my intent, because his father had been interviewed by countless people through the years. What more could another historian get out of his father?
Don Miller welcomed me into his hotel room that day and proceeded to open books with pictures of Don Miller that his son had not seen before. Don Miller kept telling me that his memory wasn’t as good as it used to be, but once those books opened and pictures came out, Don didn’t stop talking for an hour and a half. I let Don control the conversation. Don was not a man to brag on himself, but constantly talked about other Flying Tigers from the 75th Fighter Squadron like Donald “Lope” Lopez, author of the book “Into the Teeth of the Tiger.” After an hour and forty-five minutes of talking, I had gained a new friend in Don.
Don Miller was more than a Tiger Shark pilot. He was a military officer that lived multiple lifetimes in the U.S. Army Air Force and the U.S. Air Force. Don graduated from the 61st Army Air Force Flying Training Detachment at the Lodwick Aviation Military Academy at Avon Park, Florida (which now belongs to the 23d Wing/23d Fighter Group) on Sept. 30, 1943. On April 22, 1944, Don and six other men volunteered to report to the 1st Air Commando Group at Marianna Army Air Field, Florida; and later assigned to the Light Plane Squadron with the 1st Air Commando Group in Asansol, India, on Sept. 1, 1944.
Their commanding officer couldn’t quite understand why the powers that be wanted fighter pilots to fly UC-64 aircraft, an aircraft Don Miller called “the ugliest airplanes known to man.” Lt. Col. Richard W. Boebel relayed, “Because we like the spirit of fighter pilots.” I think it also had something to do with John Alison, prior 75th Fighter Squadron commander being in charge of the 1st Air Commando Group. Boebel informed Don Miller and his friends if they could fly the UC-64 for the coming winter, they could fly anything in the group for the next operation. Their job was to fly front line injured troops over the White Mountains for hospitalization. What took two weeks by road took less than an hour by air. On Nov. 12, 1944, Don transported a Japanese soldier with a gunshot wound to his stomach along with wounded British soldiers.
Don Miller flew 162 missions, totaling 132 hours with the Air Commandos. On his last flight as an Air Commando, Don Miller crashed his UC-64 properly named “Grin and Bear It” on landing. He spent the next month in the hospital recovering from a broken ankle and malaria. After he was released from the hospital, he managed a transfer to China where he was assigned to the 75th Fighter Squadron at the beginning of 1945. Don Miller logged time in the P-40 Warhawk, but exclusively flew the P-51K Mustangs (“Baby Doll” is what he named his aircraft) with the 75th Fighter Squadron until the squadron inactivated on Jan. 5, 1946.
Don Miller retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1963. Even after his retirement from the military, he was proud of his association with the Tiger Sharks and the Flying Tigers, and strived to keep the 75th Fighter Squadron and 23d Fighter Group alumni close and in contact with each other. Don was the Secretary and Treasury for the 75th Fighter Squadron Association and produced newsletters up until the time that his health would not let him.
In the last year and a half, we have lost Maj. Don Miller (Jan. 6), Maj. Donald Quigley (March 13 [75 FS Commander, Ace, POW]), and Frank Losonsky (Feb. 6, 2020, [Crew Chief, The last American Volunteer Group member]). These gentlemen marked the end of an era, the last of the World War II Flying Tigers.