Paris woman recalls uncle who died on the USS Arizona

jwarren@herald-leader.comDecember 7, 2011 

  • Marking the day

    11:30 a.m.: Free showing of Twelve o'Clock High, Kentucky Theatre

    Noon: Luncheon honoring Pearl Harbor survivors, Oleika Shrine Temple, Southland Drive

    6-8 p.m.: Reception for World War II exhibit at the Lexington History Museum.

PARIS — Reba Browning's uncle, William O. Miller, joined the crew of the USS Arizona as an 18-year-old sailor in 1941.

The battleship became his final resting place.

Miller is among more than 1,000 crew members entombed inside the Arizona at its anchorage in Pearl Harbor, where the ship sank after being hammered by Japanese planes on Dec. 7, 1941.

Reba Browning was only 3 years old then. Other than a few faded letters, she has no real memory of her uncle. But she knows what his death did to her family.

"It just about killed my grandmother, and it like to have killed my father, too," she said. "Daddy always talked about his brother every year at Pearl Harbor time. It was a terrible thing."

Miller, known by his middle name, Oscar, grew up in Findlay, Ill., and joined the U.S. Navy right after high school.

Browning still has the letter Miller mailed home to her grandmother on Dec. 4, 1941. He asked for ideas on Christmas presents his father might like, adding, "I don't suppose I'll get to come home until sometime next summer."

Three days later Miller was dead.

More than 2,400 Americans were killed at Pearl Harbor, almost half of them lost on the Arizona.

Browning said her grandmother received a Navy telegram on Dec. 24, 1941, stating that her son was missing. Browning's grandmother then wrote to Miller's old address, begging him to write home and let her know he was alive. On Feb. 24, 1942, another Navy message came, stating that all hope of finding Miller alive was gone.

A memorial to the Arizona's dead was built over the sunken ship in 1962. It attracts more than 1 million visitors annually.

Oil still bubbles out of the ship after 70 years. Some believe the bubbles will continue until the last Arizona survivor dies.

Reba Browning once planned a trip to the memorial, but it fell through at the last minute.

"We'd still love to go," she said.

Reach Jim Warren at (859) 231-3255 or 1-800-950-6397 Ext. 3255.

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