It’s not every day that a 44-year-old enlists in the Army, let alone a doctor/professor who’s already married with three children. But when World War I broke out and the U.S. joined the cause, that’s exactly what Army Capt. Louis W. Miles did. Miles served with such distinction that, during a brutal fight in France, he earned the Medal of Honor.
A Scholarly Life
Miles was born March 23, 1873, in Baltimore and was destined to be a scholar. He got a bachelor’s degree from Johns Hopkins University in 1894. Soon after, he earned a degree in medicine from the University of Maryland and worked at the university’s hospital for a time. His desire to continue learning took over, though, so he went back to Hopkins to get his doctorate in English in 1902.
For more than a decade, he taught German and English to students from grade school to college, according to his obituary in The New York Times.
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Miles also happened to be the nephew of a former Army Chief of Staff, Maj. Gen. Hugh L. Scott, so service to the country wasn’t lost on him. Shortly after the U.S. entered the war on April 6, 1917, Miles put aside his teachings at Princeton University and joined the school’s ROTC unit. He was 44 years old, an assistant professor and a married father of three, but he wanted to serve his country.
By the end of the academic year, Miles was granted a leave of absence from Princeton and went to officers’ training camp, where he earned his commission as a lieutenant. Not long after that, he was sent to France with the Army’s 308th Infantry Regiment, 77th Infantry Division.
Serving With Honor
According to a Princeton Alumni Weekly article written by a man who fought with Miles during the war, the 44-year-old was offered a chance early on to return to the U.S. and be promoted to captain to help form a new regiment, but he refused, saying his place was in France. Miles stayed on the front and eventually earned that promotion anyway.
On Sept. 14, 1918, Miles volunteered to lead Company M in an attack on an enemy trench near Revillon, France — a trench that other troops had previously tried to overrun without success. As Company M closed in on the trench, they were immediately hit with intense machine gun fire, and they had no artillery assistance to back them up.
Miles pushed on anyway, stepping to the front of the group to cut a passage through German wire entanglements. In doing so, he was shot five times with the bullets fracturing both of his legs and one arm.
Instead of staying down, Miles ordered his men to physically pick him up and carry him forward to the enemy trench, which they stormed ”like maniacs,” according to an article in the 1923 Index-Journal, a South Carolina newspaper. Once in the trench, Miles had his men put him on a stretcher so he could direct the fire of his company and encourage his soldiers, who had already suffered numerous injuries.
After two hours, Company M managed to consolidate their front line and hold the enemy trench – a feat many thought was impossible. Despite his wounds, Miles was so invested in the fight that, when it was over, he had to be carried to an aid station against his will.
Miles survived his injuries, but the wounds to one of his legs were so bad that it had to be amputated. He was initially awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions, but that was later upgraded to the Medal of Honor. It’s unclear exactly when or where he actually received the award.
When the war ended, Miles returned to civilian life. He received an honorary doctorate from the University of Maryland and went on to serve for seven years as headmaster at a boys’ school in Baltimore.
In 1927, he published a book about the 308th Infantry’s history during World War I. From that year on, he worked as a professor at his alma mater, Johns Hopkins University, until about 1940, when he was named professor emeritus.
At some point, he and his wife had a fourth child. Unfortunately, one of their two sons died in 1942 while fighting in the Pacific during World War II.
On June 27, 1944, Miles himself died at the age of 71 from a long illness. He was buried in Green Mount Cemetery in Baltimore.
Miles’ desire to serve at any age and at any point in his career serves as inspiration to others to this day.
This article is part of a weekly series called “Medal of Honor Monday,” in which we highlight one of the more than 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have earned the U.S. military’s highest medal for valor.
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