ASHE COUNTY-He was a survivor of “Bloody Omaha” Beach, where scores of American servicemen came ashore on D-Day and began the liberation of Europe in 1944. She was a homemaker and a caring mother to seven children.
Together, Wayne and Blanche Hart Miller forged a bond that lasted for nearly three-quarters of a century.
The couple married in February 1942 and last week, after more than 73 years together, they died just hours apart.
Wayne Miller, 94, died on Nov. 12 at Forest Ridge Assisted Living in West Jefferson while Blanche Miller, 92, died just 28 hours later on Friday, Nov. 13, at Watauga Medical Center.
“In a way it sounds funny but it was their wish to die together, particularly my dad’s,” Bill Miller, the couple’s oldest son, said. “They often said, ‘Maybe we’ll both go at the same time.” And they did. It was what they wanted.”
The couple married in early 1942 just months after the United States entered World War II. Wayne took a job at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland and the couple moved north.
But not long after, in August 1943, Miller received his draft notice and reported to the U.S. Army. After training, he left Blanche and a very young Bill behind in 1944 for an unknown destination overseas.
His objective turned out to be the beaches of Normandy, where he landed in the third assault wave on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944.
After five weeks of intense fighting along the ditches and hedgerows of France, Miller was badly wounded on July 12, 1944, on the outskirts of Saint-Lo. Wounded and unable to move, Miller was surrounded and briefly captured by German Wehrmacht soldiers before being dragged behind American lines by a U.S. Medic.
After months in the hospital, he returned to his family and the United States in late 1944.
The couple returned to Lansing to be near Blanche’s family, Bill Miller said, and the couple ultimately had six more children.
Wayne became a lifetime member of American Legion Post 275 and retired from Sprague Electric.
Bill Miller remembers Blanche as the mother who always looked out for her kids.
“Dad didn’t really talk about his war experiences and our mother – she took care of us,” Bill Miller said. “We all grew up in a house, in a community, where mom was cooking and cleaning and watching after us everyday. She enjoyed canning and making apple butter. She was wonderful to us.”
The Millers were self-described “night owls,” Bill Miller said, and enjoyed staying awake long into the night. They kept up that routine until they entered Forest Ridge, Bill Miller said.
While Wayne’s health had started to decline in recent months, Blanche remained in good health until a fall damaged her hip.
She was taken to Watauga Medical Center on Nov. 11 for surgery to repair the damage, Bill Miller said.
“Dad died the next day, on the 12th,” Bill Miller said. “She made it out of the operating room and woke up from sedation on the 13th.”
Bill said he and his siblings debated whether they should tell Blanche about Wayne’s death. In the end, they never got the chance to say anything. She died on Nov. 13, before she was ever told of Wayne’s passing, Bill Miller said.
“I don’t worry at all that she wasn’t told he’d died,” Bill Miller said. “Like my brother said, ‘She knows now.’ We love them and miss them, but this was what they wanted. It’s incredible how it happened.”
Reach Adam Orr at 336-489-3058 or Twitter.com/AdamROrr.