By Michael R. Reilly
Bill Miller was born on November 10, 1919, the first child of William J. Miller Jr. and Margaret Mary Semrow. People often thought that Bill was the "Jr." to his father because of the same initials. The middle initial J for his father stood for Jacob while Bill's was John. Bill's birth occurred two months after his parents had purchased their new home in the town of Hadfield (Town of Menomonee), later to be called the village of Lannon.
In September, 1925, Bill began his education at the Lannon State Graded School on the site of the present Lannon Village Hall and Fire Department. The schoolhouse was four rooms within a wood structure that had been built some thirty-six years earlier.
He was often called "Billy" during his youth and that name first appeared in the "Lannon School Notes" on December 19, 1930 when he sold the most Christmas Seals in the 6th Grade. The Lannon School Notes recorded the happenings at Lannon Graded School, penned by various students and teachers for inclusion into the weekly Menomonee Fall News. Lannon didn't have their own newspaper, and depended on local "correspondents" to gather village stories and events for the News. About a month later, Bill once again appeared in the newspaper, but this time to report that he had recovered from the mumps and returned to school.
Shortly after he entered 7th grade, Bill was elected vice-president of the 6th & 7th grade Literary Society. His best friend, Keith Gissal, was elected treasurer. This began, for the two of them a long association with writing throughout their school years together.
While in Miss Hilgert's 7th grade class, Bill was named "Good Citizen".
Keith Gissal explained that while both he and Bill played a little baseball, they enjoyed playing football. First mention of Bill's involvement was in October of 1931, when in the 7th grade, he played for the Lannon School team. His position was left guard.
Late in the 8th grade, Bill was appointed class co-editor. Later in the 10th grade, he had his first joke published in the News.
Lady (at the almond counter): " Who attends to the nuts?"
Wise Guy (William Miller): "Be patient, I'll wait on you in a minute".
These jokes continued throughout high school, some not as good as this one.
His High School Years
In the January 14, 1935 newspaper edition, Bill appears with his first by-line as the Lannon School Notes editor. Later in April, during the school Open House, he made his acting debut by appearing in a skit called , "Amos & Andy and Their Friends".
On May 28, 1935, Bill received his "Certificate of Attainment" during graduation exercises for completing two years of high school at Lannon Graded School.
Two weeks later, Bill, along with brother John, received badges at the Lannon Hall advancing them to the rank of Boy Scout in Lannon Troop 25.
Bill began attending Menomonee Falls High School in September of 1935 with three other former Lannon 10th graders, including Keith.
His second acting event was in the Lannon Boy Scout Troop 25 play, "Chicken Lifter's Convention". Bill appeared in the part of "Banty Smith".
Toward the end of his junior year, Bill once again took up the pen and became editor of the "Junior Class Notes". His writing wasn't always appreciated by his fellow classmates, as he complained in one column as having to dodge missiles thrown at him from dark school alleys (hallways). A lot of his writing seemed focused on the school romances of the day.
Bill had other activities. He and Keith would caddie at North Hills Country Club in Menomonee Falls. Sometimes they would hitchhike to "The Links" golf course near Appleton Ave. and Silver Spring in Milwaukee to play golf.
He continued his Cupid arrow attacks on classmates when he started as editor of the "Senior Class Notes". When he took a pause as editor, he soon became the target. He and Keith were reported seeing some Muskego girls.
No sooner than he's romantically linked, he joined a new, boys only, club at school called the "Stoney Hearts Club". Its members were not to be seen anywhere or anyplace in the presence of women. As a result of this club, the girls formed the "Anti-Boys Club".
When not at school, and sometimes they skipped out, they raised a little "hell". They never did any damage but had a lot of fun. Bill was of good temper and didn't get mad. One time on a trip to downtown Milwaukee they came upon a man with his arms filled with purchases. The man asked Bill to pull his hat down because it was a windy day and didn't want to lose it. Bill in turn pulled the hat down over the man's ears and eyes and then took off laughing. They also went into taverns to have a drink. As long as they didn't start any trouble they were left alone.
A big event in his last year of high school was the Senior Class Play. In December, 1936 the class put on the gay farce Happy-Go-Lucky. As "Uncle Andy" he broke people's watches in testing one of his inventions.
During this time, Bill was also known as "Salty", like his father. He had a reputation of telling jokes he heard on the radio, others he made up on his own. For a 1937 New Year's resolution, Salty Miller resolved to stop making his classmates laugh during classes.
During the 2nd semester, his "Senior Class Notes" by-line was often, "Professor William Miller". Bill would write "Brain Busters" for their amusement. Here's one example; Q. "What's the difference between duck?" A. "One leg is both the same". (Writer's note - This is exactly how it appeared in the News.)
According to Florence Miller, Bill also wrote a high school sports column for the Milwaukee Journal newspaper.
Bill graduated from Menomonee Falls High School on May 30, 1937. After graduation he continued to live at home with his family.
Post High School
His name surfaces again in the News during February, 1938, when he covers the Lannon basketball team games for the newspaper.
Not until July, 1939 is he heard of, when it's reported that he started to work for the Lannon Coal and Ice Company. Later in January of 1940, he went with Keith and brother John out to the "Ski Jump" in Oconomowoc for a little skiing.
The War Years
Adult responsibilities came quickly when he had to report to the local draft board during April of 1941. On May 27, 1941 he was officially inducted into the army. During the first week of June, he was able to come home on leave from Camp Grant. The following week his regiment shipped out to Camp Davis in North Carolina.
In August, friends and family were receiving cards from him at Camp Holabird in Maryland. Bill probably spent a little time there and then went back to North Carolina. It was from here in October that he was transferred to Georgia to attend a mechanic school for up to three months.
For Christmas, Bill is able to come home on a week furlough. He met up with another soldier in Chicago and the two of them drove back down to Fort McPherson, Georgia to resume training. At the end of January, 1942, Bill graduated from the motor transport school. Early in May he was able to come home on a ten day leave. Bill may have been transferred soon after graduation to Virginia for in December he writes home from there and the letter was reprinted in the Menomonee Falls News:
Dec. 7, 1942
I have been hearing from you and about you regularly. So I believe it is about time you heard from me.
I received the package you sent a few days ago. In fact, I am using some of the stationary that was in right now. I want to thank everyone who contributed the articles that were in it.
As it is hard for me to thank everyone with a personal letter, I hope my thanks will be conveyed to them through this letter.
Well, our sunny south hasn't been so sunny the last few days. We had a cold spell that caught most of the people around here, so to speak, "with their pants down". Steaming radiators of frozen up autos could be seen everywhere. It was one of those days when the old woollies came in mighty handy.
Today the air was filled with soft feathery flakes of snow. As if that song "I'm dreaming of a White Christmas" came true. Tonight the soft blanket that covered the ground was erased by pelting drops of rain.
The first of the month I was honored by a promotion. I now have the rank of Staff Sergeant with a salary of ninety-six per, which is quite a contrast to the twenty-one I was handed 18 months ago.
I received the Menomonee Falls News each week and it's good to read about happenings back home. I enjoyed your paper Ammunition very much. It helped me get in touch with some of my old buddies.
I guess I have scribbled enough so I say So Long.
S/Sgt. William J. Miller
HQ. Btry. 1st Bn 85th CA (AA)
Gen. Del., Newport News, Va.
*Writer's note - Ammunition was a supplement news letter that the Parents Service Organization (P.S.O.) sent out to the local boys in the service. It kept them abreast of where their friends and neighbors were stationed and how to contact them.
Another letter from Bill appears five months later:
May 5, 1943
After roaming up and down our east coast for two years, I find myself in the land of the golden west. I am now located in that vast state of Texas at Fort Bliss, near the city of El Paso.
El Paso is in the extreme western tip of Texas, farther west than Denver, farther north than New Orleans. I don't know if that helps any but there's were I am. El Paso is situated on the Rio Grande River and right across the border is the city of Juarez, Mexico.
I have been over to Juarez a few times and in some instances is like Wisconsin. On the whole their quaint customs, curios, and spots of interest are worth observing. On Easter Sunday I witnessed one of their famous bull fights, although I can say it didn't exactly appeal to me , it settled a life-long ambition to see one. The people of Mexico are very friendly and you are always assured of a good time.
The American dollars goes a long way in Mexico it being worth about four times the amount of their dollar. I had a nice big T-bone steak and all the trimmings for forty-five cents. Up there I don't believe you can buy that amount of meat at the butchers for that price.
The queer thing about going to Mexico, you must only take two dollar bills and silver with you. Bills of other denominations are seized. Just what the reason is I don't know. But I believe it's to avoid the passing of counterfeit bills.
We're about thirty-seven hundred feet above sea level here and the air is very rare. Many of the boys had a hard time getting used to it being subject to constant nose bleeds. We are entirely surrounded by mountains and on a couple occasions some of the boys and I climbed to the top of one of them. We were up high enough to look down on the airplanes flying around the Fort. Personally I think I'll look for an easier way to get exercise.
I understand some of the local boys are stationed at this Fort. If that is true, I would appreciate obtaining their address so we could get together and do a fling Wisconsin style.
S/Sgt. William J. Miller
HQ. Btry. 786th C.A. Bn
AAATC, Fort Bliss, Texas
A few months later, in July, Bill mailed his father a birthday present from his station on the Mexican border. When his brother John got married to Helen Narr while on leave in November, 1943, Bill was able to get a furlough to attend the wedding.
Almost a month later, Bill was stationed at Muroc Army Air Field in Muroc, California.
The following April Bill has been transferred to Camp Cooke and writes home to friends:
Camp Cooke, Calif
April 9, 1944
Don't be too surprised I usually don't make with the prose, but after receiving your Easter package I just had to write and express my appreciation.
The contents of the package were unusually good and after journeying to the PX for a few bottles of that Milwaukee beer my buddies and I sat down to a feast that smacked more or less of the old get-togethers we once enjoyed back home.
Each time I received one of your packages the boys are all a little envious even though they get more than a share of it, for I told them of your organization and the wonderful work it does. They all express the wish for a similar group in their home towns. Hollywood has its Canteen, New York has its stage door Canteen, but only Menomonee Falls has a P.S.O.. From reading the letters of the fellows in the News who benefited from your services I know you have a large cheering section. Not wishing to bore you with any army routine, I'll close with many thanks.
S/Sgt William J. Miller
* Writer's note - P.S.O. stands for Parents Service Organization.
In late May of '44 Bill is able to come home and visit with his family. Later in August he is transferred back to Texas.
* Writer's note - For some unknown reason the regular Lannon news column doesn't appear in the Menomonee Falls News from approximately October, 1944 to nearly the end of August, 1945. Little tidbits of information were scattered throughout the newspaper. In both of brother John's letters that were published, he complains of the lack of home news and wonders if Lannon has fallen off the map.
Additional information from his wife Florence indicates that Bill was overseas in Europe from February 19,1945 until September 12, 1945. He was in the Battle of the Rhineland and spent time in Germany, Paris, and Denmark. For his military service he received a service stripe, a service bar American Defense ribbon, an American Campaign Medal - European including one Bronze Star. In addition he was awarded the Good Conduct Medal and the World War II Victory Medal.
Post War Years
In September, 1945, Bill telephones he's in Boston and will be returning home soon for an extended furlough. On November 11, 1945 he is honorably discharged from the armed forces.
During the Labor Day weekend in 1946, Bill visits his parents with Miss Florence Ann Jadwick, along with her mother, Mrs. Paul Jadwick. After Bill was discharged, he found work in Chicago with the Lasham Cartage Company as a mechanic and met Florence through her father, a fellow co-worker.
Marriage and a Family
September 28, 1946 Bill marries Florence Ann Jadwick in a ceremony held in Bridgeview (Willow Springs ?), Illinois. Florence was born and raised in the Chicago area, the daughter of Paul Anthony Jadwick Sr. and Maryann Claira Parzych.
Soon after, the couple had a son, William John Miller Jr. but he died at an early age. Later another son was born to them, Paul William Miller, on April 3, 1951. A daughter, Susan Ann, followed on September 3, 1953. Both Paul and Susan were born at the Evangelical Lutheran Hospital in Chicago.
Life was difficult for the young couple, as it was for many during the years following the war. They lived with Florence's parents in Bridgeview for ten years. During that time they would borrow her parents car and visit with Bill's family in Wisconsin once a year. At times Bill's family would come to visit, especially his father and step-brother Erv. Since both his father and Erv were big baseball fans, those visits usually included a trip to the Chicago ballpark to see the Cubs play.
Other than his interest in baseball, Bill enjoyed bowling and a good round of golf. At least once, he brought son Paul to Wisconsin and played a round at Scenic View Country Club with brother-in-law Bob Reilly and nephew Mike. (Writers note - I remember standing off to the side of the 7th tee with cousin Paul, at what we thought was a safe spot to be, when Uncle Bill shanked his drive and nailed Paul in the arm with golf ball. Most of his golf game was usually better.)
Something unfortunate for all was that Bill never continued with his apparent love for the writing and acting that was so much a part of his early life.
In 1955, the family moved to Niles, Illinois and remained there through today (same house ?).
Bill left Lasham Cartage (when?) and went to work for Interstate Freight.
Life wasn't always easy for Bill. His inherited hypertension was something he dealt with most of his life and took medication to control it. Yet he suffered a stroke in July of 1969. He did recover after three months and return to work.
Bill entered retirement on July 30, 1977. Three grandchildren given to him and Florence by son Paul and wife Nancy, kept him busy as a grandfather. They are Kristine, Rebecca, and William, soon followed by a granddaughter from daughter Susan and her husband Dale. Amy Margaret Anderson was born on April 18, 1985.
The stroke that paralyzed his whole right side came in October of 1979. For twelve long years he and his family dealt with what he knew was his cross that God gave him and accepted it. Bill practiced his Catholic faith and attended St. John Brebeuf in Niles, something that probably helped sustain him through these years.
When asked if Bill had many qualities or faults, Florence Miller replied that he had many. He was very devoted to her and the children. He was kind, gentle, and happy-go-lucky. Ever with the joke with nothing seeming to bother him; the only fault Florence thought he had.
William "Bill" J. Miller died at the VA Hospital in North Chicago on January 1, 1991. The family held a funeral mass at St. John's Brebeuf on the fourth that was followed by a wake at Skaja Terrace Funeral Home. Bill was laid to rest at St. Adalbert Cemetery. All who knew him, loved or respected him.
Sources: Interview with Keith Gissal, the Menomonee Falls News on microfilm at the Maude Shunk Library in Menomonee Falls, WI., Florence Ann Miller.