Lee C. Mills, 90, who had a long career in aviation, died Friday, Feb. 8, 2013, at the Billings Clinic.
He was born in Sibley, Iowa, on May 30, 1922, to Doris Katherine Mitchell and Harley Mills. His parents subsequently divorced, and his mother married William Gustin and the family moved to Miles City in 1927.
Mr. Mills graduated from Custer County High School in 1940. He worked for Carl Brodston in Charlie Hatch’s garage as an apprentice auto body repairman, then moved in 1941 to Billings and worked at Lew Chevrolet garage in the body and paint shop.
In 1942, while working for Northwest Airlines as an apprentice mechanic and ramp attendant, he entered the Army Air Force and was assigned to the Mechanic School at Sheppard Field, Texas, and the Advanced Engine School at Chanute Field, Ill.
His service experience included 22 months at the air base at Jorhat in the Assam province in India. This base was involved in flying supplies across the Himalaya mountains to China over the route known as “The Hump.”
His assignments included ground crew chief responsibilities for the maintenance of a four-engine transport aircraft and flight engineer duties. He accumulated 652 hours of flight time and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (twice), the Air Medal (twice) and the Presidential Unit Citation (twice).
Upon his rotation back to the States, he married Stella Leone on April 25, 1945. He was subsequently assigned to Homestead Air Base in Florida as a flight engineer instructor.
After the war, Mr. and Mrs. Mills lived in Billings while he went back to work for Northwest Airlines. After an assignment in St. Paul, Minn., he returned to Billings and worked for Gillis Flying Service, managing the shop and parts departments for 10 years.
In 1959 he was recruited by the Federal Aviation Agency as a field maintenance inspector and was assigned to Fresno, Calif., and Helena. In Helena, he participated with the Montana Aeronautics Commission in the establishment of a Flight Instructor Refresher Program, which became a national effort to reduce aviation accidents. He also developed a slide program that he presented to pilot groups in Western Montana. The program was demonstrated to Regional Headquarters, then sent to the 90 field offices and became a national program.
Mr. Mills also worked with the Montana Aeronautics Commission to establish an annual airplane mechanic refresher seminar. He was promoted to field office supervisor in Helena and after 12 years was transferred to Fargo, N.D.
After 27 years, he retired, and he and his wife moved back to Billings. They taught round dancing at state conventions and festivals in the Dakotas, Minnesota, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Montana. He was a member of the St. Thomas the Apostle Parish, the CBI Hump Pilots Association, the Eagle Lodge in Fargo and the Elks and Moose lodges. He also made audio tapes of books for people with sight challenges, in addition to helping people learn English as a second language.
Survivors include a son, Stephen; two grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
Services were Feb. 19 at Dahl Funeral Chapel. Committal was in Holy Cross Cemetery.