WWII vet and former Siskiyou ranger tells about near-death experiences in new autobiography

Kelsey Shelton
Mount Shasta Herald

Pew Research Center estimates about 300,000 U.S. World War II veterans are alive in 2020 – most of them in their 90s. One such veteran is 96 year old Richard Miralles of Woodland.

is pictured in 2019 at the USS Arizona Memorial. Miralles and two producers were flown out by the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum to view a screening of the film “Eleven,” which details the story of Air Group eleven, which served in WWII on the USS Hornet, and at Guadalcanal. Miralles has had his own experiences with both the Hornet and at Guadalcanal during his time in the service. While there, the Navy was holding a blessing and Docking Ceremony for the USS Arizona Memorial after it had been closed for two years for refurbishing.

Raised in the Redding area, Miralles fought at Guadalcanal and in World War II, and lived in Siskiyou County for more than 35 years. He recently penned a novel at age 96.

“It’s my autobiography,” said Miralles, who began writing his story when he was 95. “I had some friends who kept urging me to write because they thought I had an interesting story.” 

About six months later, “War and Fire: From fighting in World War II to fighting California Wild Fires, an Autobiography” was complete and listed online for sale through Amazon.

Raised as a ward of the state, Miralles tells of his journey in the U.S. Navy in 1942, and fighting in the South Pacific as a radio man and aerial gunner in dive bombers and torpedo bombers. The story documents his survival of multiple crashes, bombing missions, and even kamikaze attacks. 

The story details his time after the war at Washington State, chronicles his travels through Europe  and his time working with the California Department of Forestry, now known as CAL FIRE. 

Life can take any direction

Miralles returned to college at Washington State after holding the position of Assistant Dispatcher with CDF. Before leaving for school again, Miralles applied to be a Forest Fighter Foreman. 

Once school was finished and Miralles had obtained a degree in Forestry, he and a college friend decided to tour Europe before returning to full time work. After five and a half months, 15 different countries, and finding new family in Pego, Alicante in Spain, Miralles arrived back in Redding, ready to begin his career. 

Miralles eventually found himself in Siskiyou County. 

In 1973 Miralles was promoted to State Forest Ranger IV as the ranger in charge of Siskiyou County. Miralles, his wife and their three children moved to Lake Shastina. 

During his time as ranger, Miralles had a few close calls with fire, and he also experienced legal battles with Pacific Power & Light Company regarding pole placement compliance. He got a signed mutual-aid agreement with the State of Oregon for firefighting aid and personal injury liability over state lines. He also worked to combine dispatch centers with the U.S. Forest Service – the first of its kind in California.

Miralles said in the book that the time he spent as the ranger in charge of the Siskiyou Ranger Unit was “the most rewarding part of my career with the California Department of Forestry.”

Accidents happen

In his novel, Miralles recounts near death experiences, including a plane crash in Hawaii during WWII. 

Miralles, the back pilot, was told to “land the airplane,” but he didn’t feel he could get ready to land in time, he said. The front pilot took over, and upon landing, “the right wheel collapsed and the plane dropped down on the right wing.” 

After sliding hundreds of yards, the plane wing hit a light post on the runway and flipped upside down. According to the book, Miralles’ head was inches from the pavement.” 

“All I could think of at the time was, ‘Boy, am I glad I’m little because I can drop my seat and get my head below the cockpit.’”

In the end, all members of the crew were “shaken up, but okay.”

“I had probably about six or seven near death experiences in the war and with fires,” he said. While with CDF, Miralles had his closest call and was almost burned to death.

Miralles describes a moment during a grass fire near the prison inmate Miramonte Conservation Camp. 

Miralles and crews were assisting in inmate crew checks 300 yards from the main fire. After walking half mile to check the site, Miralles began to head back uphill. Once he started, he saw fire coming from the bottom of the hill “with a vengeance.” 

Miralles began running back down the hill to where he had left the inmate crew, and arrived at the same time as the fire. 

Once extinguished, Miralles learned that two inmates and an Assistant Ranger were caught in the fires. One had perished, the other two suffered severe burns.

Reflections and contemplations

While enjoying retirement in Lake Shastina, Miralles served on the Board of Community Services District and he acted as the Fire and Police Commissioner for many years. Miralles also “played a lot of golf,” which he still enjoys.

Miralles and his wife also began traveling. They took many cruises to Mexico, Hawaii, Europe and the Caribbean, and they also explored the United States

In 2013, Miralles and his wife moved to Redding, and eventually Woodland to be closer to their children and grandchildren.

Miralles credits his success partially to his strict upbringing by Mrs. Nelson of Redding as a ward of the state. Nelson, according to Miralles, instilled Christian values in him and his siblings, as well as the idea of keeping to your goals, giving credit when credit is due, and the concept of leading a happy life regardless of social status. 

“WAR AND FIRE: From fighting in World War II to fighting California Wild Fires, an Autobiography” is currently available in paperback on Amazon for $9.99, and in Kindle e-read format for $4.99.