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You Never Know What You’re Going to Find

By: Ms. Amanda Shaw, Archivist, Naval History and Heritage Command

“Mostly Class 1924,” from the Harold B. “Min” Miller Collection, 1924

The Archivists at the United States Navy Archives perform many different tasks. The Reference Archivists provide reference services to the public and to the fleet by providing information and access to archival materials and collections. Before these archival materials and collections can be made available though, they have to be processed. The Processing Archivists work behind the scenes to make this possible. 

In order to properly process a collection of archival materials, the Processing Archivist must get to know the collection’s creator(s). If the collection was created by a command within the Navy, the Processing Archivist may need to learn the history of that command. If the collection was created by an individual or a family, it is helpful to have a good biographical sketch of the individual or the family members who helped create the materials in the collection. Knowing this history, whether it is the history of a naval ship or the history of a single person, helps the Processing Archivist properly organize the materials in the collection. Details also help the Processing Archivist prepare a richer administrative or biographical history for the collection’s finding aid. 

Sometimes, the background information a Processing Archivist needs can be found in the materials in the collection. Other times, it can be found in the materials that document the donation or transfer of the materials (accession files). For information beyond these sources, the Processing Archivist has to expand their search to published books and the Internet.  These expanded searches can mimic a research project for history class.  And the results can often be surprising and fun.

One of the first collections I processed at the Navy Archives held the personal papers of RADM (ret.) Harold B. “Min” Miller. Through my first review of the materials in the collection, it became apparent that RADM Miller was a graduate of the United States Naval Academy. It was also apparent that he had a lifelong interest in naval aviation as well as general aviation. The materials in the collection tell the story of an interesting man who served as a pioneering Naval aviator in the 1920s and 1930s. From the materials in the collection, it was also apparent that RADM Miller dedicated a significant amount of time following his retirement from the Navy to maintaining connections with his Academy classmates as well as the aviation community. But, in order to properly process and document the life of RADM Miller, I wanted to know more. While his collection tells a fascinating story on its own, through a little research and digging, I was able to uncover even more details about his life in the U.S. Navy and the importance of his service. 

“My Office at 10,000ft above Nicaragua keeping cool!” From the Harold B. “Min” Miller Collection, 1939

I started out with the transcript of the oral history Miller completed with the United States Naval Institute. I was fortunate to have such a resource available. In his oral history, RADM Miller discussed his boyhood dream of joining the U.S. Navy and his path to achieving that dream. He discussed the first decade of his Navy career, from 1924-1935, in which he trained as a Naval Aviator and served as an instructor at Naval Air Station Pensacola, then flew with the squadron attached to USS Akron (ZRS 4), a lighter-than-air (LTA) rigid airship. In his oral history, Miller also discussed his service under Admiral Chester Nimitz during World War II. This in particular I wanted to know more about. While the materials in his collection tell the story of his time serving as a Naval Aviator, the materials don’t speak to his service under Admiral Nimitz.

USS Akron (ZRRS 4) flies over Arlington, Virginia, with the Potomac River and Washington, D.C., in the background, circa 1931-1932. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

I expanded my research to published works and the Internet to learn more.  Through my research, I learned that Miller was handpicked in August 1944 by then-Secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal, to reform the Pacific Fleet (CINCPAC) public relations office and improve the relationship between the office and the working press. This new position placed Miller directly under the command of Admiral Chester Nimitz. Admiral Nimitz, Commander-in-Chief of Naval Forces in the Pacific during World War II, was immediately impressed with his new public relations officer. Over the next several months, under Miller’s leadership, the CINCPAC public relations office grew tremendously. New policies and programs instituted by Miller reshaped American perceptions of the Navy. By March 1945, the CINCPAC public relations office was well prepared to handle quick and efficient press coverage of the Battle of Iwo Jima. Following these successes, he was promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral in April 1945 at the age of 42, the youngest ever promoted to that rank at that time. 

“Mail Correspondents,” from the Harold B. “Min” Miller Collection, 1944, Guam.

Many of the details regarding Miller’s service in CINCPAC were made available in published books relating to the war in the Pacific. Then, an internet search of RADM Miller uncovered a number of interesting magazine articles from that era. RADM Miller’s significant contributions during his service in CINCPAC were unexpectedly highlighted in the May 1945 issue of Boys’ Life magazine. It reads:

“Few readers of Boys’ Life can know (unless we tell them) that an old friend and Boys’ Life author is given credit for the swift flow of news and news photographs of the invasion of Iwo Jima. In 17 1/2 hours after the Marines landed on Iwo the first photographs were being published in the United States. The man responsible for this quick transmission was Captain Harold B. (Min) Miller who, as press chief for Admiral Nimitz, set up a system for quick clearance and transmission of news materials from the battle front, for which he has been complimented.”1

The search results for his name also included an issue of Life Magazine, dated 26 June 1950. On page 119, RADM Miller appeared in a full-page advertisement for the J. B. Williams Company line of shaving products.  The ad, which espouses the youthfulness and vitality of men of that era, highlights Miller’s accomplishment as the youngest to hold the rank of Rear Admiral.2

Mr. Miller’s appearances in these magazines provides even more depth to an already impressive figure from U.S. Naval history. When I began my research, I didn’t know what I was going to find. The results turned out to be far richer than I ever expected. The more I learned about RADM Harold B. Miller, his service in the U.S. Navy, and his life following his retirement, the more I wanted to learn. In the end, my research efforts paid off handsomely. 

Additional information on the Harold B. “Min” Miller Collection can be found here: https://www.history.navy.mil/research/archives/Collections/personal-papers/m/miller-harold-b-min.html

1. “Honors For an Old Friend,” Boys’ Life Vol. 35 No. 5, page 42, May 1945.      

2. “More and more it’s a young man’s world.” J. B. Williams Company advertisement, Life Vol. 28 No. 26, page 119, June 26, 1950.