Ralph C. Miller was far away from home, crawling through a dense forest in Belgium, when the artillery shell exploded overhead.
Today, 46 years after he was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge, Miller will repeat his first reaction. While other World War II veterans lay wreathes on the graves of their fallen comrades, he will bow his head in prayer.
"God led me all the way," said the 68-year-old Brooklyn Park man, a retired engineer and born-again Christian. "I was scared, sure, but I always had faith."
When the medics arrived, they found Miller and four other soldiers seriously injured by the shrapnel. The men were told to turn back into the forest, head down a stream and find the ambulance parked nearby.
Carrying their most severely wounded friend on a raincoat, Miller and the other three inched their way back, following the medic's directions.
Soon, they realized they were lost.
"We never found the stream, but we got into the edge of an open field," recalled Miller, a decorated veteran who was awarded the Purple Heart for being wounded in action. "We were just about to cross it when someone hollered at us that the field was full of mines."
The wounded men finally found the ambulance after other soldiers in the 2nd Infantry Division cleared a narrow path between the mines.
Miller thought he was safe then. But while he was recuperating in Brussels, the Germans bombed his hospital. He survived, although he suffered "a few more cuts from flying glass."
His dramatic story is only one of thousands that will be remembered today as 174,100 veterans of the Second World War, including 16,000 in Anne Arundel County, celebrate Veterans Day. Some will march in parades, attend memorial services or visit the graves of friends. Others, like Miller, will commemorate the day in private reflection and prayer.
A Carroll County native who grew up on a produce farm, Miller returned to Maryland in 1945, the year the war ended with the German and Japanese surrenders.
He promptly married his sweetheart, Anne, who worked with him at the American Hammer and Piston Ring defense plant in Baltimore before he was drafted.
They raised two children, Patricia Anne Carter and Ralph Jr., now 43 and 40 respectively, in Brooklyn Park. Over the years, they watched their small, quiet neighborhood grow into a bustling, urban area. But they stayed in the same house, surrounded by neighbors who also served in World War II.
"There were very few houses in Brooklyn Park in those days," Miller recalled of the first years he lived there.
He worked as an engineer for Hynson, Westcott and Dunning, a Baltimore pharmaceutical firm, for 32 years before retiring in 1984.
A natural handyman, Miller now spends a lot of time fixing up his own home and those of neighbors on Eighth Avenue. Although he dedicates most of his energy to his family and Townsend Avenue Baptist Church, he also hunts in Carroll County and still enjoys a good volleyball game.
"I can still beat my son in volleyball," he brags with a smile. But he must confess, "I run out of breath before he does."
Miller never joined a local Veterans of Foreign Wars post, but he is a life member of the Purple Heart organization and belongs to the Normandy Museum in France, which commemorates the Allied invasion. Among the medals he cherishes is the Belgium Fourrage, the Victory Medal and a sharpshooters badge.
Despite all his awards for valor, Miller is modest about even discussing his two years overseas. He prefers "not to think too much about it because it brings back a lot of painful memories."
Instead, he finds solace and joy in his family, his church and the life he built once he returned home.