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News From The Past


July 17, 2000

Franklin Douglas Miller
Army hero of Vietnam War dies at age 55

By George Coryell

 

 

When he was told six weeks ago that he had only a short time to live Franklin Douglas Miller didn't blanch.  "His concern was not for himself, but how to take care of his kids," said Jeff Barber, vice chairman of the Special Operations Memorial Foundation.

The retired Army Green Beret died at 9 AM on Friday, June 30, 2000 at age 55 of pancreatic cancer. His heroism during the Vietnam War remains vivid still in today's military.

Army Gen. Henry Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the loss was one that all in the military would feel. "We have lost an individual , I think, who served as an icon to what service in the armed forces is about," Shelton said.

Miller's attention to detail, combined with his moral and physical courage, made him the ideal soldier, he said. "Doug Miller epitomized that," Shelton said. "He will be sorely missed."

Miller was not widely known to the outside world; but within the small community of commandos, he was a legend. So much so, that when word spread that Miller had been diagnosed with cancer, Ross Perot, long a supporter of such missions, asked to check Miller's medical records.

"Ross Perot called personally," said retired Green Beret Col. Rod Nishimura of Valrico. "Perot's doctors looked at the medical record. Nothing could be done."

Miller spent 6 1/2 years in Vietnam in the secret Studies and Observations Group, which raided across the borders of Cambodia and Laos, attacking the North Vietnamese Army.

He joined the Green Berets partly to compete with his older brother, Walter, who was already in the force and now lives in Alaska. Miller went to Vietnam in March 1966 and left in November 1972. While leading Team Vermont, Miller took part in an action described as "the Vietnamese Alamo," which earned him the Medal of Honor.

On May 1, 1970, Miller led a seven-man group of Montagnards and Americans on a patrol into Laos. One of the men tripped a booby trap that wounded four soldiers. Others fell to enemy fire, until there was only Miller, shot through the chest, and still battling about 30 North Vietnamese troops.

"A voice told me to calm down or I was going to go into shock," Miller said in an earlier interview with the Tampa Tribune. The disembodied voice was one he recognized, that of Sgt. Roy Bumgardner, who had been his combat mentor in Vietnam.

"It was like a religious experience. I knew something had happened. I was actually falling and thinking, "Why am I falling?"

"When you see that much blood, and you know that it is yours, it has a tendency to scare you."

He pulled himself to his feet and held off two more attacks before reinforcements arrived. Miller and two others survived, and he received the Medal of Honor from President Nixon. When asked by the president where he would like to be posted, Miller asked to go back to Vietnam.

"I liked being there. I was in my element," he said. "That's what all the training was for."

Miller's actions in Vietnam garnered not only the nation's highest combat award, but also six Purple Hearts, a Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and an Air Medal.

Miller retired as a command sergeant major in 1992, and moved to St Pete Beach at the urging of friend Gary Littrell, who also is a Medal of Honor recipient.

Miller worked at Bay Pines as a benefits counselor until July 1999, when combat injuries forced him to retired.

In recent years his lung worsened from the AK-47 round that he took in the chest, but the cancer was unexpected. Miller had gone to Bay Pines Hospital for a routine checkup when he was told the news.

It came at a time when he was trying to sell his recently republished memoirs to raise money for his children Joshua, 18 and Danielle, 16, who lived with him. Another daughter, Melia, 12, lives with her mother in Hawaii.

Though he continued to teach occasionally at Fort Bragg, N.C., Miller's focus shifted from combat to his children. His face would light with joy at watching them accomplish something. "Actually I learn a lot from them every single day," Miller said last year. "Just life itself, seeing it from their point of view."

Miller believed you should be willing to see children through their learning experiences.

"You can't manufacture quality time with a kid. Quality time is those brief moments when they need you to answer those questions they have," he said. "They've got a chance to make decisions. If they made a bad decision, they see the results right there."

Army Gen. Peter Schoomaker, commander in chief of the U.S. Special Operations Command, said Miller was an inspiration in life who remained courageous to the end.

"Doug Miller was an incredibly selfless person, a great soldier, friend and loving father who always put others before himself," Schoomaker said.

"He will be greatly missed by all of us in the special operations community," he said. "But his example of the warrior spirit will continue to inspire us to do our duty in the face of great odds."

CSM Miller requested cremation and that his ashes be scattered in his native New Mexico.

The lesson Miller most liked to pass on to inexperienced troops was one he lived.

"Share your fears with yourself and share your courage with others," he said. "You will inspire people to do things that are incredible, inspire them to do things beyond your wildest dreams."

 

2000, by The Tampa Tribune
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