Salute to Our Veterans: Thank You for Your Service

You have read in these pages before how the call-up of men to serve in WWI and WWII affected the dance scene in Central Texas. Bands went on hiatus as their members went off to serve their country. It was after WWI that the Shiner Hobo Band was formed. The young GIs and veterans returned home anxious to get back to old-time music. A group of musicians in the Shiner area decided to form their own band and provide entertainment at picnics, wedding dances, and civic affairs. They decided to dress in mismatched clothes with patches sewed on them. They were a happy-go-lucky bunch, who enjoyed their Czech and German music. The Spoetzl Brewery became the band’s sponsor and it cost the brewery a keg of beer for each performance.

Today, the Shiner Hobos are still a happy-go-lucky bunch who entertain polka lovers at all kinds of events. Many of the musicians have retired from other bands, and several are veterans. The group did not hesitate to gather for a photo at the Come & Take It! Festival in Gonzales on Oct. 7 (see cover photo). They are proud to have served their country and proud to keep the polka tradition alive and well.


Some musicians who went off to war, took their instruments with them. One was trumpet player Leland Miller from Columbus. He played regularly with the Ellinger Chamber of Commerce Band and the Arnold Ilse Orchestra at area dances. He was inducted into the U.S. Naval Reserve in Houston and left Columbus on Feb. 12, 1943, for boot camp in San Diego, celebrating his 19th birthday on the train. After boot camp, he was transferred to the Fleet School of Music in San Diego.

On May 3, 1943, Leland was assigned to the crew of the new Essex Class Aircraft Carrier named the USS Intrepid CV-11 in Newport News, Virginia, as part of the new ship’s damage control crew and a band member.

Leland Miller’s war-time experience is detailed in the new book Veterans’ Voices and Home Front Memories by Elaine Thomas. An excerpt in Leland's own words follows: "My main duties were to help keep our ship afloat by containing damage inflicted by the enemy. The ship’s band played for noon concerts, church services, burials, etc., when the Intrepid was out of harm’s way.

April 16, 1945 – This finds us off Kyushu again. About 1:30 p.m., the bosun’s whistle blared (GQ) – a noise weird enough to disturb the dead. I jumped up and before I got 10 feet, all the guns on my side (starboard) were roaring like mad. I knew a (enemy) plane was coming in close; I just can’t explain how scared I was fighting my way aft.

Casualties were being brought down aft, so we headed to our compartment, which was dark as the power was off. All hangar hatches were down because of water, so we went forward, mustering at the office. The hangar deck was quite a mess, but the damage this time was more centralized than before. Casualties were seven to nine dead and 40 or so wounded, some seriously.

It was just beginning to get dark when the bogeys were moving in again. The Intrepid shot down three of the five planes. We received a couple of compliments from the Admiral to the effect that we can take it, as well as dish it out. One run was made on us; the torpedo whizzing by just 15 feet off the fantail and the plane coming so close the gun crew was ready to hop over.

April 17, 1945 – Today, everything is calm again and it is a great relief. This task group is refueling, and now we’re on our way to Ulithi, escorted by some destroyers. At 3:30, the band played for burial services. The burial started with the band playing “Lead Kindly Light,” followed by scripture readings and prayers by the chaplains. After the committal, a volley and tapes, the service concluded with the beautiful hymn “God Be With You Till We Meet Again.” There were about 10 burials, I think."

Leland was aboard the Intrepid for two years, then transferred to the U.S. Navy School of Music in Washington, D.C. From there, he was sent to the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi where he received an honorable discharge in January 1946, after three years in the service.

After being discharged from the U.S. Navy, Leland entered the University of Texas and played in the Longhorn Band from 1946 to 1948. He earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Petroleum Engineering and spent his career in that industry. He also had the pleasure of participating in a number of German and Czech brass bands, most extensively in Kovanda’s Czech Band. Leland passed way Sept. 19, 2016.

If you enjoyed Leland Miller’s story, don’t miss the memories shared by 62 other WWII veterans and civilians in “Veterans’ Voices and Home Front Memories” by Elaine Thomas. To order your copy or to send as a gift, see the ad on page 5.


What started out as one story in the Fayette County Record newspaper about Charlie Ripper’s WWII experiences, grew into a supplement to the paper featuring the stories of 40 vets, and now a book with 63 first-person accounts of WWII. Author Elaine Thomas writes a monthly column for the Fayette County Record called “Stories I’ve Been Told.” “After my story about Charlie Ripper’s WWII experiences was published in Oct. 2014, he was overwhelmed with positive comments from the community, some from people he didn’t even know. Charlie called and told me that I ought to interview ‘all the boys.’ That sounded like a pretty tall order, but Charlie said he would help. He had been a barber in La Grange for 50+ years, but he didn’t know the other veterans’ stories. He didn’t want me to talk only to those on the front lines on land or at sea. He wanted me to talk to the veterans who never left the U.S., as well as those who were drafted toward the end of the war, but nevertheless played a role in the outcome of the war.”

Charlie started introducing Elaine to veterans and the project took off. Before long, veterans were calling her, asking when she could come to see them. “I promised them that I would write their stories and bring the drafts back, so they could approve them. Not a single one wanted to be called a hero, but they all wanted to be sure that their memories were recorded accurately. Sadly, one or two of the veterans told me they ‘couldn’t go back there.’”

The Fayette County Record published the first 40 interviews in a special supplement in 2015 and the feedback was great. People kept telling Elaine that she needed to put the stories in a book, so they don’t get lost over time. That’s what she has done, expanding some of the original 40 interviews and adding another 23.

“I decided to add the stories of nine women who were on the home front during the war years to give a more complete picture of how WWII impacted families. Everyone in the book has a tie to Fayette County. Either they were born here, lived here, or retired here,” she said.

“The veterans and the female civilians whom I interviewed are such awesome people. Their stories deserve to be told because they have something to say. If there was ever a generation who understood the concept of working together for the greater good, it was The Greatest Generation! Saying ‘thank you for your service’ is the only payment they will accept,” Elaine said.


Elaine will launch the sale of her book at a book signing event on Sat., Nov. 10 from 1:30-4:30 pm at historic Casino Hall in La Grange that is being sponsored by the Fayette Public Library, Archives and Museum.

“I hope a number of the surviving veterans and female civilians whose stories appear in the book will co-host with me. We are decorating the hall with a patriotic theme and will provide light refreshments.”

KVLG/KBUK Radio (104.9) in La Grange will be doing a remote broadcast during the book signing, so if you can’t be there in person, you can listen in. (Easy instructions are on the home page of the station’s website.)

Books can be ordered online at, using the order form at right, and will be available at these Fayette County businesses: The Fayette County Record, The Schulenburg Sticker, Fayette County Library, Weikel’s, Heritage Hallmark, D&D Ace Hardware, The Gallery in Round Top, Round Top Mercantile – with more being added to the list each week! Other local businesses selling “Veterans’ Voices” are the Round Top Mercantile and Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center.

Profits from the sale of books will go to a scholarship at Blinn College – Schulenburg. “By donating profits to a scholarship, my husband, Emil, and I are ‘paying it forward.’ This gesture, in a very small way, recognizes the contributions of WWII veterans and those on the home front, while supporting local students who are tomorrow’s leaders,” Elaine said.

About the Author

Elaine Thomas was born and raised on a farm in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies, studied journalism and built a career based on her writing skills working for Fortune 500 companies in Houston, as well as operating her own public relations business. In recent years she has returned to her first love, which is telling stories. “Since I am fascinated with history and heritage, I’m so glad that my husband, Emil, and I settled in Fayette County!”