McMillen's first stop after training was Pearl Harbor, which still showed the effects of the Japanese sneak attack of Dec. 7, 1941. But McMillen's stop at Pearl Harbor was brief, since the majority of the Pacific Islands were still under Japanese domination.
Espirita Santos, Emirau. Bismark Arch Palego, Guadalcanal and Bouganville were all in McMillen's travel orders, with Bougainville offering McMillen's first combat experience.
Although protecting bombers on their missions was imperative, the one mission that the fighters went on without the bombers is the flight that McMillen remembers best.
"One day we got to fly what they call fighter sweep and we knocked 31 aircraft out of the air of Japanese planes," he recalls.
Before the war was over, McMillen's iconic Marine squadron 111 had shot down 74 Japanese airplanes and destroyed two enemy barges.
Although his flights included the destruction of Japanese equipment on the smaller islands, McMillen and other marines had to contend with Japanese soldiers on Bouganville.
When a mortar hit right outside his tent, he found the earth to be as dangerous as the air. However, by that time McMillen had been overseas 90 days and was expecting to be sent back home. He was sent to another island.
"I was getting ready to come back home and we went to an island called Emirau," he recalled.
Finally, McMillen was sent back home with a Bronze Star, three Battle Stars, and a chest full of medals and battle ribbons, attesting to his bravery in war.
The atomic bombs ended the war and McMillen was free to begin a new life. On December 7, 1944 McMillen married his sweetheart, Helen Griffin, and just last year the couple celebrated their 72nd anniversary.
As for his service to our country, James McMillen modestly says, "I feel that I did my duty."
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