By Derek Tyson
Welch News Editor
WELCH, W.VA. — McDowell County residents tuning into the History Channel may spot a familiar face among the cast of a new show, “Lost Gold of World War II,” premiering Tuesday, March 19.
A trailer released recently on the channel’s Facebook page offers the premise of the program: In 1945, according to legend, Japanese General Yamashita buries billions worth of stolen treasure in tunnels deep within the Phillipine mountains, burying alive the soldiers who helped him and only leaving behind a series of mysterious symbols. Many have searched for his treasure, but it has avoided discovery until now. A surviving witness has come forward, and together with our team of experts, they hope to finally find the Lost Gold of World War II.
Jeremy McMillan, formerly of Kimball, W.Va., was selected to be part of the excavation crew working alongside the producers of the program.
“A kid from the bottom of West Virginia is about to be on TV,” said McMillan. “All I can say is God made it happen because I didn’t sign up for anything.”
McMillan was found by the production company after they came across an article by Al Jazeera America’s Reniqua Allen featuring McMillan speaking about his experiences as a coal miner.
“Last year, me and my wife were praying to God to do something for us that was out of our imagination,” said McMillan. “About two months later, a woman reached out to me on Facebook and asked if I wanted to by on a TV show.”
McMillan explained what he first took as a joke turned out to be quite real. After several interviews via Skype, he was on his way to Atlanta to get his passport.
“Everything I had to do, they paid the bill,” explained McMillan. “I bought $800 worth of clothes and they paid for it. It still doesn’t feel real to this day.”
During production of the show, McMillan spent 15 weeks in the Phillipines working with the production crew and getting to know the natives of the area. Some of the work required his experience with heavy machinery while other jobs required old fashioned shovels and elbow grease.
“It wasn’t acting,” said McMillan with a laugh. “Most people think it was a joke, but it was for real. It was a hundred degrees and real humid so it made it even worse.”
McMillan described his coworkers as a good bunch of guys living together under hectic circumstances. He is hopeful the show will be great.
While in the Phillipines, McMillan fell ill for a week after contracting a stomach parasite, but that was the only bad experience he had to mention.
Arriving in the Phillipines, McMillan said he felt blessed as he saw the conditions in which some of the natives lived.
“It’s a culture shock coming from the United States and seeing homes were there are gaps between the boards and a single light bulb illuminating one big room,” said McMillan. “It humbled me to see that. We’re spoiled brats over here, man.”
McMillan noticed despite not having much, the natives would give away anything they had, reminding him of the people back home in McDowell County.
“It’s 10 times worse, but they’ll give you anything,” said McMillan. “There were people doing manual labor in flip flops, so we all pitched in to buy them tennis shoes.”
McMillan explained helping others is part of the foundation of his life after a motorcycle accident at 21 years old left him bedridden and, worse yet, alone.
“Losing the bike didn’t hurt me. It was losing the people that said they’d always be there,” explained McMillan. “At the same time, I was fighting drug addiction. The doctor would ask if I wanted more and I said yes because I was in pain.”
During that time, McMillan said his thoughts drifted toward suicide, but was overtaken by an urge to pray about it. “That was one of the lowest points of my life, but it made me who I am today.”
McMillan was walking again within three days and has relied on faith to carry him through every storm since.
Besides working on television programs in exotic locations, McMillan is a proud husband and father of three working as a jack-of-all-trades contractor based out of Bluefield, Va. His next big project involves bringing the local community together to initiate a ‘Big Brother’ program for children in Mercer County.
“Hopefully the show does good because I want to do something for McDowell County,” said McMillan, speaking of plans to expand the program to serve children in McDowell in the future. “It takes a village to raise a child so I want to bring the community together to make it happen.”
McMillan hopes the show’s viewer ratings are high in West Virginia.
“We see people on TV everyday that live in LA, not someone from West Virginia though,” said McMillan. “I already told them West Virginia will have the most.”
The Lost Gold of World War II premieres Tuesday, March 19, on the History Channel.