Helen Miller, among the first women to serve in the U.S. Army, dies at age 96
Helen Miller had a life with many chapters, and she wasn't hesitant to write them herself.
The chapter that took her furthest from home was her military service during World War II. At 21, she joined the Women's Army Corps and was shipped off to England, becoming one of the first women to serve in a non-nursing position in the U.S. Army.
She later wrote that she joined because "all the good guys were in the service and my friend and I thought we'd get in and help them get it over with." Miller served in the Army Air 8th Fighter Command headquarters outside of London for three years during the invasion of Europe.
In 2014, she was featured in the Twin Cities Public Television documentary "Women Serving in War," which won a regional Emmy.
Miller died June 17 at a hospice in Woodbury. She was 96.
Her childhood was filled with change and upheaval. Born in St. Paul, her family moved 19 times. She became adaptable and resilient, surviving scarlet fever as a young adult and beating breast cancer twice.
After the war ended, Miller married Navy veteran Leo Christiansen, whom she met when she was 16. They built a house on a family farm in Maplewood, where they raised their two sons, who would both go on to serve in the military. The family was deeply involved with and formed many friendships at Maplewood Covenant Church.
After Leo died in 1979, Miller never went back to their Maplewood home — there were too many memories, her older son Dave Christiansen said.
But she found love again in George Miller, who had lost his wife to cancer. They married in 1983. Though the Millers lived in West St. Paul, they spent nearly 20 winters in Mesa, Arizona, where the couple spent much of their time golfing. George died in 2009 after a battle with dementia.
Energetic and gregarious even in her later years, Miller "had a great giggle" and would often burst into song, close friend Margaret Wachholz said. She looked forward to dressing up in costume for parties and concerts at Woodbury Senior Living, which was her home for nine years. She played poker and was a fan of the Twins, the Vikings and Tiger Woods.
Miller was creative throughout her life. She took up painting in the late-1970s and completed around 25 pieces, which were displayed in the church at her funeral. Afterward, her relatives each took one home.
No stranger to health struggles, Miller was always concerned about Christiansen's wife, Kristi, who lives with chronic pain. In lieu of flowers, the family asked for donations to the Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome Association, which supports people living with Kristi's illness, complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS). When Kristi Christiansen began a campaign to light up the I-35W bridge in orange to generate awareness for the illness, Miller threw her full support behind it. On Nov. 5, 2018, the bridge will glow orange for the fifth-annual CRPS awareness day.
In 2016, Miller began writing a blog for Face Aging MN, an organization formed to help Minnesota deal with the effects of a rapidly aging population. Miller wanted to challenge popular misconceptions about aging, and writing "is how she got her cup filled in life," Wachholz said.
Her blog, "Helen's Corner," had 10,300 followers. Wachholz said Miller was in awe of the number of people who read her writing.
Miller's final post, published two days after her death, was a goodbye and a thank you.
"I know where I'm going is going to be beautiful," she wrote. "After I'm gone, I want my followers to know that. I'm not afraid, and I want to thank each one of you for what you've meant to me."
Other than Dave and Kristi Christiansen, Miller is survived by her younger son, Dan Christiansen, and his wife, Cheryl; her sister, Georgia Adkins; seven grandchildren; nine great-grandchildren; and one great-great-grandchild. Services were held June 22.