The life of Clarence Miller can be easily summarized with a single word—responsibility. Raised in Mexico, Mo., he left his studies at Columbia High School (predecessor to Hickman) to take care of his four brothers and sisters after his father passed away. Years later, the young man answered another call to duty, this time when the nation beckoned for his service during World War I.
“I don’t really recall him ever talking about his military service,” said Robert Miller, a World War II veteran and son of Clarence. “I hardly even knew that he had served during the war when I was younger and now there doesn’t seem to be a lot of information about his service,” he added.
Born in 1895, Miller was living in Columbia, Mo., when his name appeared in the July 25, 1917 edition of The Evening Missourian, listing his name among those registered for military service in Boone County, Mo. The registration was the result of President Wilson’s proclamation of May 28, 1917, which initially required men between the ages of 21 and 30 to register with locally administered draft boards “between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on the fifth day of June, 1917, at the registration place in the precinct wherein they have their permanent homes.”
Under the Selective Service Act of 1917, as the proclamation was known, local draft boards were given the responsibility for the initial registration, selection and delivery of men to military training camps, and was a process implemented by General Enoch Crowder—a Missouri native and provost marshal of the United States during World War I.
Though Miller, because of his age, was required to report for the first registration (two subsequent registrations were required, the latter of which extended the age requirement to those between 18 and 45 years of age), his lottery number was not selected until the following year. On August 15, 1918, ten days prior to his 23rd birthday, the young man said goodbye to his family when he was inducted into the U.S. Army and departed for his training destination of Camp Jackson, S.C.
According to Miller’s service card accessed through the Missouri State Archives, he remained at Camp Jackson and trained with a field artillery battery, preparing to serve as a replacement soldier in case the war continued. Camp Jackson was designated as the Army’s Field Artillery Replacement Depot in May 1918 and, as noted in the “History of Fort Jackson” accessed through the U.S. Army’s website, was plagued by the Spanish Influenza in September of the same year, resulting in 300 deaths during the same timeframe Miller was training at the camp.
When the armistice was signed on November 11, 1918, Miller continued in his military service for several more weeks, until receiving his honorable discharge at the rank of private on December 27, 1918.
The process by which the young Mid-Missourian entered the military was not unique as statistics from the National Archives note that by the time World War I came to a close, “More than 24 million men registered for the draft, and almost 2.7 million men were furnished to the U.S. Army by conscription.”
Returning to Columbia, Miller later wedded his fiancée, Elsie McBaine, and the couple raised four sons. In later years, he became an employee of the City of Columbia.
“He used to work the swing shift,” recalled Miller’s son, Robert, “and when he got off, he liked to fish. I think that we fished all of the creeks around the city.”
Robert acknowledges that although he served in the Army during World War II, he and his father never had any discussions about his experiences during the First World War.
“He and my brother (Raymond) were very close,” Robert said, “and they talked about the military at times because Raymond had served in the infantry during the war, which really seemed to be a connection between them.”
Though Roberts’s brother has since passed and little information survives regarding their father’s service in the First World War, he remains grateful for the service records that exist, which help shed a little light upon a father’s military experiences during a war nearly forgotten. In the book “The Spirit of the Selective Service” published in 1920, General Enoch Crowder explained that a section of the nation’s history was preserved through the process that mobilized an army of men in defense of the nation during WWI—a collection of information that has survived the passage of years and is now available in various archives throughout the United States.
“The pride, the sorrow, the sacrifice and the patriotism of the nation were contained within the records of the Local Boards,” wrote Crowder. “Never in the history of this or any other nation had a more valuable and comprehensive accumulation of data been assembled upon the physical, industrial, economic and racial condition of a people.”
To learn more about military records available through the Missouri Digital Heritage site, visit http://www.sos.mo.gov/archives/soldiers/. For more information on the history Fort Jackson, South Carolina, visit http://jackson.armylive.dodlive.mil/post/museum/history-post-wwii/.
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America
Jeremy P. Amick is a military historian and author dedicated to preserving our nation's military legacies.