The first American to fly the Harrier, Lieutenant General Thomas Miller earned his wings and commission in the US Marine Corps in March 1943. A native of San Antonio, Texas, he flew over 100 combat missions in the F4U Corsair during World War II. After a short tour as operations officer of Marine Air Group 91 at Cherry Point, North Carolina, Miller was assigned to the Naval Air Test Center, NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, in December 1945. While there, he flew 17 different types of aircraft, including the Bell YP-59 Airacomet and the Ryan FR-1 Fireball. After assignments at Ewa, Hawaii; Corpus Christi, Texas; and Quantico, Virginia; Major Miller returned to combat in Korea.
Beginning in June 1952, he flew over 100 strike missions in the Corsair as a member of Marine Fighter Squadron (VMF) 323. After Korea, he led the team tasked to introduce the Douglas A4D Skyhawk into the Marines' air inventory. After graduation from Naval War College in 1958, Lieutenant Colonel Miller was assigned to the Bureau of Naval Weapons as a project officer on the F-4B Phantom II program. In 1960, Miller set a world speed record in this aircraft. During this period, he also helped develop requirements for the AH-1 Cobra, UH-1N Huey , CH-53 Sea Stallion, and EA-6B Prowler.
In June 1962, Miller assumed command of VMF 513, and in 1964 became Executive Officer of Aircraft Group 11. In 1965, following a combat tour at Chu Lai AB, Vietnam, Colonel Miller attended the Army War College, and in 1966 was assigned to the Air Weapons Systems Branch of HQ USMC. Attending the Farnborough Air Show in September 1968, Miller walked into the Hawker Siddeley Chalet and stated his interest in the company's revolutionary new Harrier aircraft--the world's first vertical/short takeoff and landing aircraft. Just over a week later, he flew the aircraft for the first time.
Returning to the United States, he began a successful campaign to convince the Navy and Congress that the Marine Corps needed the aircraft. Promoted to brigadier general in August 1969, he returned to Vietnam as Assistant Chief of Staff, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific. In August 1975, Lieutenant General Miller reached the pinnacle of his career, serving as Deputy Chief of Staff for Aviation, at HQ USMC. At the time of his retirement in July 1979, he had flown over 8,500 hours in 75 different types of aircraft. Lieutenant General Miller and his wife, Ida Mai, currently live in Arlington, Virginia.
By the mid-1960s, naval gunfire was increasingly hard to obtain for Marine Corps amphibious landings. The Navy began employing missile-equipped ships and naval air support had decreased as they fielded fewer aircraft with smaller bomb loads. In 1968, during the height of the Vietnam War, Colonels "Tom" Miller and Bud Baker went to England to attend the Farnborough Air Show. While there, they flew the Hawker Siddeley Harrier and returned to the States convinced that they had the answer to the fire support problem. After successfully briefing the Commandant, Colonel Miller became the key man in a campaign to get the aircraft for the Marines. With a mixture of political skill, hard work, and sheer enthusiasm, he overcame the odds and convinced the Navy, the aircraft industry, and Congress that the Harrier was a "must" for the Corps.