Chris Smith: These two WWII vets took their first breaths in 1919
Jack Miller and Ed St. Germain don’t know each other. But, in a way, they’re brothers.
Both are 100 years old. That shared distinction places them among the oldest of us who walk about feeling blessed to have Sonoma County as our home.
St. Germain and Miller both are happy guys, and both belong to the diminishing corps of veterans of World War II. Neither wished for war but both, having bonded with their fellows in uniform and come out alive and in one piece, consider their military service a potent, essential aspect of their long lives.
Miller is a survivor also, narrowly, of the Tubbs fire.
“It was hell,” the lean and bright-eyed vet said at his newish home in a retirement apartment complex in Rohnert Park. “It’s hard to get over it.”
Miller and his wife, Betty, whom he met in 1945 during a leave from the war in the Pacific, made their home on Santa Rosa’s Coffey Lane in 1952.
They’d been living in Southern California when Betty’s folks settled in Sonoma County and bought more than 80 acres of bare land north and east of what would become Coffey Park.
“We came up to visit them,” Betty recalled, “and my dad sold of 20 acres.”
Betty and Jack Miller built on that land a house that would be their family home until the night of flames in October, 2017. Jack built also a large shop and went to work as proprietor of Miller Electric. He’d wire many of the homes built later on the east side of Coffey Lane.
In the war, Jack had served in the Electrical and Telephone Division of the Signal Corps. While stationed for a time in Australia, he was responsible for stringing phone lines to be used by Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
Some of Miller’s most prized memories from the war involve action not on the battlefield but the ball field.
In his teens and 20s he was quite the baseball player. While in Brisbane he played third base, becoming a sensation when he turned four double plays in one game.
Seventy-two years after the war, Miller came under attack on the first night of the Tubbs fire. Holding his hands about eight inches apart, he said, “Fireballs about that big were flyin’ through the air.”
Rousted by a firefighter from their Coffey Lane home of nearly 65 fires, Miller and his wife fled without even their wallets. When at last they were able to return to the devastated neighborhood, they saw that Jack Miller’s 2,000-square-foot shop burned along with the house.
“I didn’t even get a screwdriver out of there,” the former electrician and Army Signal Corpsman said.
But he and Betty escaped with their lives, and they’ve adapted pretty well to the apartment in Rohnert Park. There was a big party in community room for Jack’s 100th birthday in early October.
He had a relative who lived to age 107, to it’s his aim to make it to 108.
“After that,” said the century-old vet, “I don’t give a damn.”
ED ST. GERMAINE knew naught about airplanes as he was growing up in Iowa.