Burnett Miller was born on September 2, 1923 in Sacramento. His father ran a successful lumber business. Miller was a sophomore in ROTC at Santa Clara College when the war began. In May of 1943, he was called to active duty and after basic training entered the Army Specialized Training Program at University of California, Berkeley, to study engineering. In March of 1944, when the ASTP program was disbanded, Miller became a private in the infantry, and was assigned to the 21st Armored Infantry Battalion, 11th Armored Division. In September of 1944 he shipped overseas. When the Battle of the Bulge began, Miller's unit was rushed 350 miles across France in four days. He went into combat for the first time near Neufchateau, southwest of Bastogne, on December 30th. He survived weeks of chaotic fighting in the snow and bitter cold, and in the village of Chenogne captured thirteen German prisoners almost inadvertently.
At the end of January when a mortar shell exploded in a hole where he was taking shelter, Miller was temporarily deafened and suffered a concussion as well as shrapnel wounds. He spent three weeks recuperating and then rejoined his unit on the Siegfried Line. He fought with the 11th Armored Division for the rest of the war in Europe, and participated in the liberation of the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. After the war in Europe ended, Miller was sent to interpreter school at the University of Grenoble, then became a reporter for Stars and Stripes in Paris. He eventually returned to the United States to finish college at Georgetown University, then went back to Europe for a time. In 1948 he returned to Sacramento and went to work for his family's lumber business, married and had three children.