b. 02/05/1923 Fort Meade, Florida. d. 11/11/1973 Lakeland, Florida.
DATE OF MOH ACTION: 24/05/1944 near Cisterna di Littoria, Italy.
World War II Medal of Honor Recipient. He served as a Private in the United States Army in Company F, 15th Infantry, 3rd Infantry Division. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for action near Cisterna di Littoria, Italy on May 24, 1944. He was Polk County’s only Medal of Honor winner during World War II.
“He was so self-effacing that weeks later he was worried when his captain told him to get in his Jeep and drove him to a villa,” Rufty wrote. “Mills thought he was being court-martialed for losing his rifle during a battle in which his knuckles in one hand were shattered. Instead, he was greeted by American and British generals and the Army Press Corps, and received the United States’ highest award for military bravery.”
After the war, Mills returned to Polk County, started a family and served first as a wildlife officer, then as a field officer for the Veterans Administration. In fact, the 50-year-old was working as a VA field officer in Gainesville when he and his coworker saw the broken down vehicle on the side of the road on Nov. 9, 1973.
The two men stopped to help. It turned out to be a ruse. James Mills and Kenneth Mills were savagely beaten before the threesome stole James Mills’ car and left their victims for dead. James Mills was able to crawl for help. He was taken to the Veterans Hospital in Gainesville under his own power and even talked to his son by phone before falling unconscious. He died three days later. “It takes compassion for a man to return after 16 years and place flowers on graves of men he killed in battle,” The Ledger wrote after Mills’ death, referring to a return trip to Italy he made in 1960. “Now that man and his compassion has been taken by the hands of men with no compassion.”
Mills was buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Lakeland. But his story has remained alive in Polk County. In 1998 a memorial was dedicated in his memory at Lakeland’s Bicentennial Park. Also, the Polk County Parkway is named in his honor.
BURIAL LOCATION: OAK HILL CEMETERY, LAKELAND, FLORIDA.
SPACE 2, LOT 7, BLOCK 528.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: FAMILY.