Monday, May 31, 2010

A Story of War

George Miles thought that he’d gone crazy.
Based on his surroundings, it wasn’t a bad assumption. His company had been under heavy attack from North Korean forces, and his captain had ordered a retreat; the last thing he remembered was diving into a blast crater, then feeling a sudden impact as an artillery round exploded right next to him. Thrown into the air like a rag doll, he blacked out before he hit the ground.
When he finally awoke, he tasted powder in his mouth and a few of his teeth were missing. Looking around, he saw dozens of other young men lying in beds all around him. Some were heavily bandaged and others were missing limbs.
Inspecting himself, Miles found that all of his body parts seemed to be intact, and slowly, he began putting things together.
He was in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital.
He was alive.
He was still a long way away from his home in Rochester, but he was alive.
But just as everything was beginning to make sense again, Miles spotted a man that he hadn’t seen for three years walking through the door of the MASH unit and immediately thought that the blast that knocked his teeth out must have knocked something loose in his brain as well.
“I turned and looked and said ‘That’s it. I’ve lost it. That looks like my brother coming through that door,’” said Miles.
The Miles brothers
George Miles was born in Wayne County in 1932 to Allan and Vera Miles and spent his childhood on a farm in Walworth as one of seven siblings. In his youth, his brother Richard, who is just 14 months younger than him, was one of his chief partners in crime; their crowning moment of mischief came when they stole bicycles and painted them, only to be chased around the house by their broom-wielding mother, who had just been informed by a police officer that her sons were thieves.
But when George was 10 years old, his parents divorced, and he, Richard, and their five other siblings were all separated into a handful of area foster homes.
“They took us to the welfare office, and we were all crying in the back of the station wagon as our mother and father waved goodbye to us,” said Miles. “It was hard.”
George Miles landed in Hillside Children’s Home, and through his teenage years, he lost track of most of his siblings, some of whom were still moving back and forth between foster homes.
As soon as he was old enough, he joined the National Guard and then the Army’s honor guards, spending time in Washington following an assassination attempt on President Harry Truman.
He then volunteered to assist in the conflict in Korea — since it was only being called a “police action,” he thought it couldn’t be all that bad, he said — and at age 17 Miles was shipped overseas, assigned to a company in the 7th Cavalry Regiment of the 1st Cavalry Division: General George Custer’s old outfit which was famously decimated by Native Americans in 1876 in the Battle of Little Bighorn.
“When I got there, I thought ‘Wow, this was a big mistake,’ because man, stuff was going off all over the place,” said Miles.
Before he knew it, he was in an infantry unit on the front lines, and his company was pinned down by heavy fire from North Korean forces. Cut off from the rest of the regiment, his captain ordered a retreat, while a nearby company provided covering machine gun fire.
As they were pulling out, Miles spotted a soldier wandering around in the open, dazed from a nearby explosion. He grabbed the soldier and started dragging him away from the front lines, when he heard someone yell “Incoming!”
He threw the soldier into an artillery crater and dove in after him just before the shell hit.
A week passed before he regained consciousness.
Custer’s outfit
Miles was still getting his bearings in the MASH when his brother Richard walked through the door.
Richard was scheduled to receive treatment for combat fatigue when a corpsman remembered that another soldier named Miles, who was also from Rochester, was recovering from battle wounds in a nearby unit.
The corpsman sent Richard down to George, and the brothers recognized each other immediately. When Richard reached the foot of the bed, they both started to cry.
“We didn’t even know each other was in the service,” said Miles.
His amazement grew when Richard told him about the company he’d been fighting with: a machine gun unit in the 7th Cavalry Regiment of the 1st Cavalry Division.
“I looked at him and said ‘General Custer’s outfit? What company?’ He says ‘Dog Company.’ I said ‘Oh my god, you were giving us supporting fire and you never even knew I was out there,’” said Miles.
The brothers spent another week catching up in the hospital, and when they got out, they were determined to transfer to a company where they could serve alongside one another.
Their higher-ups were wary of assigning family members to the same unit — an attack on the unit could mean sending two telegrams to the same address — but the brothers were insistent, and they were both placed in a mortar company that would provide support to the infantry.
The day after he was reassigned, mayhem broke loose on the front lines in a region later known as Bloody Ridge. The Miles brothers, safely positioned behind a hill that was overlooking the battle, fired mortar shell after mortar shell over the hill and into the fray, relying only on their forward observer to direct their shots.
Their mortar tube got so hot that they had to stop firing and wait for it to cool down.
“I said to Dick, ‘What in the hell is going on up there?’” said Miles.
Then, Miles spotted a wounded soldier being helped over the hill by a medic. He realized that the man was a member of his old infantry company and ran over to greet him.
“I said ‘Where’s the captain? Where’s the first sergeant?’” said Miles. “And he says ‘Take a good look. I’m the only one left.’”
With the enemy having overrun the front line, forcing infantry members to fight hand-to-hand, a commander had made the decision to wipe out the entire area. Miles had been unknowingly firing mortars down on the company he’d left just one day earlier.
He started weeping right there on the battlefield, and when he got back to his post, he told his brother: “I’m never going to forget this.”
‘A miracle’
The Miles brothers fought together in Korea for the remainder of their service and came home in 1952.
Now 78 years old, Miles lives in Ontario, Wayne County, and still visits his 76-year old brother, who is a patient at the Jewish Home of Rochester in Brighton.
A stroke has made speech difficult for Richard Miles, but tears still well up in his eyes when he talks about being in Korea with his brother, and to this day, friends, family and fellow veterans can’t help but be amazed by their story.
Fred Bacher, a Korean War veteran who attends church with George Miles, said that it’s the most outstanding private war story he’s ever heard.
“It kind of reminds me of the search for Private Ryan,” said Bacher, 80, of Webster, in reference to the 1998 Oscar-winning film. “But George wasn’t searching. It just came about; it was happenstance.”
If the Miles brothers hadn’t met in the MASH, George Miles wouldn’t have been transferred off the front lines and would likely have suffered the same fate as his old company, a fact that hasn’t gone unnoticed on his son.
“It’s really a miracle that that happened,” said George Miles Jr., 54, of Parma. “I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for that situation.”
His experiences have played no small role in his family members’ lives, either; George Miles Jr. was a U.S. Marine, and Miles’s grandson Matthew serves in the Army.
Earlier this month, Miles held a military gathering at Living Word Assembly of God Church in Ontario as a tribute to his fallen company.
During the service, which he’s hosted for the past 30 years, he spoke to the congregation and was joined by members of each branch of the military. He asked those in the audience who have served to stand up and identify themselves, and led the congregation in giving them a round of applause.
And if asked in private, he’ll tell his story of miracle and tragedy. Some veterans are reluctant to discuss their service, but Miles said that he made peace with his experiences long ago.
“I don’t know how many years I can keep doing it,” said Miles, “but I’ll do it every year for as long as I can.”

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