A son's pilgrimage fulfills a promise

Niskayuna-- Gregg Millett brings photos back to China, where his father helped heal wounds of war

Times Union, Saturday, May 22, 2004
By Breea Willingham, Staff writer

Gregg Millett had simply planned to visit Kunming, China, to present a slide show of the photographs his father had taken there during WWII, but the trip soon expanded into a three-week exhibit.

Millett and his granddaughter, Krystal Garrison, went to Kunming earlier this month for the opening of an exhibition at the Yunnan Provincial Museum of 130 photographs taken by his father.

"It was absolutely heartwarming on one hand," said Millett, a retired teacher and founder of Singles Outreach, an activities network for unmarried people. "On the other hand, it was always fascinating to be in this culture and constantly talking to people."

The photos, along with excerpts of letters written by Millett's father describing the people and culture of Kunming, will be on display there until May 29.

Clinton Millett was a lieutenant colonel in the Army and executive officer of the 172nd General U.S. Army Hospital. In 1944, he helped move the hospital from Ledo, India, to Kunming, where injured pilots and prisoners of war were treated.

The Chinese were fighting Japanese invasion when thousands of American soldiers came to China to help. They fought alongside Chinese soldiers in Yunnan, and Millett recorded the historical moment in pictures and letters to his wife and children.

Gregg Millett had color prints made from the original slides. Because color photography was relatively rare 60 years ago, the people of Kunming were fascinated to see the history of their home in color.

"We knew we had a precious gift, but we didn't know how special," Garrison said. "A couple of people fainted at the exhibit because it was so overwhelming."

Before he died in 1964, Clinton Millett asked his children to go to Kunming one day with his pictures and take new photos at the same locations where the originals were shot. He also asked them to try to find and visit old friends he met in Kunming and their families.

Gregg Millett and his granddaughter were able to locate family members of a doctor who practiced herbal medicine. He was the subject of one of Clinton Millett's photos, a copy of which now hangs on a wall in Gregg Millett's living room. The man's relatives shared stories of time Clinton Millett and the doctor spent together.

On Thursday, a day after returning from his trip, Gregg Millett spent the morning hanging pictures and sprucing up a mini-exhibit showcasing some of the pictures, Chinese newspapers, and gifts he and Garrison brought back from their trip. He plans to show the exhibit Sunday during a welcome-home celebration at his home on Bobby Court.

Millett and Garrison came home with 700 new pictures, plus six CDs of more photos and at least six hours of video.

But one of Millett's most memorable moments wasn't caught on film. Meeting and talking with older people at the exhibition are what touched him most because he realized how much the people valued his father and other Americans.

"Thank you very much for your father," a Buddhist monk said through an interpreter on one of Millett's videos. "Your father left the history of our temple. Thank you very much for bringing these special pictures back to Kunming."

To view some of Clinton Millett's photos, visit www.greggmillett.com.