Former mayor in WWII film
Former Sacramento mayor Burnett Miller (1982-83) is about to become the city’s most widely recognized personage—though not for anything he did as mayor. Instead, through documentary filmmaker Ken Burns’ upcoming 14-hour series on World War II, Miller will be one of the faces and voices imprinting themselves on the national consciousness as the American soldier of that time and that fight. The War premieres on public television in September.
Miller, whose great, great-grandfather founded Burnett & Sons lumber company in Sacramento in 1869, served as a rifleman in the 2nd Armored Infantry, 11th Armored Division of the Army. He was in the middle of the action during the Battle of the Bulge, Hitler’s last desperate attempt to break the Allied lines closing in on him. Miller recalls a pivotal moment when an officer ordered the execution of some German prisoners of war to entice other German POWs to provide intelligence information. “The major ordered most of the company to do it,” Miller told SN&R, “but a large number wouldn’t.” That included Miller himself. “Not a pleasant memory,” he said.
Miller’s unit went on to liberate the Mauthausen concentration camp at the end of the war, providing another mixed experience. While the soldiers tried to save the starving inmates, Miller saw that feeding them the concentrated Army rations did more harm than good. “It was 10 days before the Swedish Red Cross came in with the expertise to feed them properly,” he remembers.