Pa. Historian Who Recorded 437 World War II Veterans' Stories Retires

The National World War II Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana
The National World War II Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana

READING, Pa. -- You won't find a book entitled "The History of World War II" by Larry Miller.

But Miller, 73, a retired Reading management consultant, is every bit a historian as Tom Brokaw, author of "The Greatest Generation."

Quietly, without fanfare, Miller has interviewed 437 veterans of World War II in the last eight years.

The video-taped interviews are on file at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.

Working out of a tiny office at his north Reading home, Miller has recorded what might be called "A History of World War II From the Bottom Up."

In meticulous, first person fashion, he has crafted a vision of the war from the soldiers, sailors and Marines who fought it.

In Miller's recordings, GIs tell their stories in their own words.

"I'd tell them," he recalls, "just tell your story in a way your grandchildren can listen to."

Regretfully, Miller has decided to discontinue his quest to document stories of World War II veterans that might otherwise fall through the cracks of history.

The demands of traveling to other states have made it increasingly difficult to maintain the schedule of interviews in recent years, Miller said. In addition, the pool of World War II vets has shrunken considerably.

"Most World War II veterans are well into their 90s," he said. "Often, their recollection of the war years has faded with time."

Miller's final WWII interview, done several months ago, was with 93-year-old Luke Gasparre in Astoria, N.Y. Enlisting in the Army at age 18 in 1943, Pfc. Gasparre was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge and was awarded a Purple Heart by both the American and French governments.

Love of History

On his patio, a few blocks from Albright College, Miller talked about his love of history and respect for the World War II generation.

Growing up, history was big in the Donald and Frances Miller household.

Uncle John Steber of Reading saw action with the Army's Big Red One in five World War II campaigns. And dad served in the Army Air Corps.

Both Miller boys, Larry and Donald, earned degrees in history from St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Westmoreland County.

Donald L. Miller, a best-selling author, is professor emeritus of history at Lafayette College and one of the nation's most respected authorities on World War II.

Larry's was a more circuitous path to becoming a historian.

A consultant on Lou Reda Productions' "World War II in HD," which aired on the History Channel in 2009, Miller realized the stories of many GIs were going untold.

In 2011, working with the National WWII Museum, he undertook what would become a passion for finding and recording the stories of ordinary GIs.

Of Sacrifice and Sorrow

His first interview was with the family of Archie Sweeney, a New York soldier who was killed in North Africa.

Sweeney was buried in North Africa, and more than 50 years later, his family still grieved over his loss.

"It brings things home to you when you see how the death of an ordinary GI affects the family all these years later," Miller said.

His quest led him to vets up and down the East Coast, but Miller did not neglect the local boys who served.

He interviewed the late Mahlon Fink of Cumru Township, who received a Purple Heart for wounds incurred in the Battle of Iwo Jima. A 19-year-old Marine, Fink landed within hours of the initial attack on Feb. 19, 1945, and was wounded 12 days later. He witnessed the raising of the flag atop Mount Suribachi.

Carl Constein, another of Miller's interviewees, flew 96 missions ferrying supplies over the Himalaya Mountains from India to China.

During World War II, when the Japanese occupied portions of China, Constein piloted a Curtiss C-45 Commando cargo plane "over the hump" to the American outposts in China.

Miller recalls the late Calvin Summers of Reading as a true gentleman.

Summers, an African-American who died at age 94 earlier this year, was wounded in Italy in 1944. Despite his wounds, he never received a Purple Heart.

Yet, Summers took pride in his service and was a fixture at World War II Weekend at Reading Regional Airport.

No Heroes Present

One characteristic that all World War II vets shared, Miller found, was humility.

Even when having performed outstanding deeds, he said, they disliked being called heroes.

They were just doing their job, they'd tell him. The real heroes were the ones who didn't make it home.

"Most of them were very humble and did not want a fuss made over them," Miller said. "They almost despised the word hero."

In interviews that lasted up to two hours, Miller listened with wonder to often compelling stories of personal sacrifice. Often, he'd wonder what he would have done had he been in their shoes.

He always ended the interview the same way: "Thank you for your service."

This article is written by Ron Devlin from Reading Eagle, Pa. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to

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