The year was 1918. The United States, under the leadership of President Woodrow Wilson, had struggled to remain neutral in a conflict that had engulfed the European powers and their colonial empires in war. For three years, Wilson successfully navigated his nation on the path of peace, but by 1917 it was painstakingly clear that the United States could not condone the belligerency of Germany. The sinking of passenger liners such as the Lusitania and provocations like the infamous Zimmerman Note had infuriated American officials. On April 6, 1917, Congress declared war against Imperial Germany.
World War I witnessed shocking innovations in the realm of warfare. German U-Boats patrolled beneath the waves of the Atlantic for unsuspecting targets. The Allies and the Central Powers alike shelled their opponents from miles away with debilitating chemicals. Yet perhaps one of the most influential shifts in modern warfare theories arrived on the wings of the airplane. All nations, including the United States, understood that future military victories would require control of the skies.
Thousands of miles away from the nearest battlefield, in the small town of Cooper, Texas, Greaver Lewis Miller was preparing to fulfill his civic duty. At twenty years old, Miller enlisted with the Army’s Signal Officer’s Reserve Corps with the hopes of becoming a certified pilot. With no prior aviation experience, Miller graduated from the U.S. School of Military Aeronautics at the University of Texas at Austin on July 13, 1918. Armed with the latest aviation theories, Miller put his knowledge to the test at Rich Field.
An airfield near Waco, Texas, Rich Field was devoted to the training of American pilots in the 1910s and 1920s. It was named after Perry Rich, a soldier who had died in a flying exercise in 1913. Abandoned shortly after the war, the airfield was used as a civilian airport for a number of years. (And for our Waco readers—yes, Richfield High School was constructed on part of its site.)
In its prime, Rich Field was home to some of the best pilots the U.S. military had to offer. Flying an airplane was an art, and Miller excelled at it. On December 13, 1918, he officially became a “Reserve Military Aviator” by passing the required examinations. While Miller’s papers don’t tell us much about the particulars of his WWI service, we know he continued to impress his superiors—he rose to the rank of Second Lieutenant on February 15, 1919.
Like many young boys, Miller had a dream to one day soar through the skies. Thanks to his determination and the opportunities that pilots had during the First World War, Miller’s dream became a reality. He had earned his wings.
The Greaver Lewis Miller papers, a small collection of Miller’s personal records, are available for research at The Texas Collection, thanks to the generosity of his son, Jerry. As we prepare to celebrate Independence Day, The Texas Collection thanks Greaver Lewis Miller and all those who have served our country.
By Thomas DeShong, Library Assistant