Granbury resident Ronnie Miller was only 3 years old when his father, Sgt. John Edward Miller, was killed in action while serving in Vietnam on June 11, 1966, making him Hood County’s first Vietnam War casualty.
DEVOTION TO HIS MEN
The book, “Remember Me: The Soldiers of the Clouds” by Mary M. Brokaw, tells the story of John, and the events that took place leading to his death in 1966.
John was 18 when he joined the Army in 1954. During the next 12 years, he married his wife Bonnie and had two sons: Ronnie and Eddie.
Just a couple of weeks before he died, John had received word that a close friend of his, Sgt. Vincente Rodriguez, had been killed in action. At his friend’s request, John escorted the body home to Pharr in the Rio Grande Valley.
Another mutual friend of Rodriguez, Sgt. Wade Linder — also from the Granbury area — had gone through his stateside training with John and Rodriguez. All three of the men went to fight in Vietnam together in September 1965.
After he escorted Rodriguez home, John decided to return to his troops earlier than originally planned. As he was enjoying a cold beer with Linder, he confided in his friend and said he knew he was not going to make it out of Vietnam alive. John told Linder, “I want you to escort me home. I’ve already made the arrangements.” At first, Linder said he thought it was just the beer talking.
The next day, John volunteered to go out on the mission with the rest of his men. He was protective of them and watched out for their safety. In an attempt to protect his men, John “with complete disregard for his personal safety, charged forward through the VC fire and destroyed an enemy machine gun nest with hand grenades. Turning toward the next emplacement he was shot in the head with a round from another machine gun and killed.”
HONORED FOR HIS HEROISM
John was only 29 when he died. Ronnie Miller said members of John’s battalion were between the ages of 18-20.
“He was kind of like the father figure to them,” Ronnie said.
At the funeral home, Linder requested to see John’s body. After the funeral director opened the casket, Linder handed him a medal to be pinned on John, a Silver Star that was awarded posthumously for his bravery.
Linder said, “I felt he was the only one who deserved to have it. Actually, I thought he deserved the next one higher than that.”
Along with the Silver Star, some of the awards and decorations John received were the Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, Marksmanship Medal, Purple Heart and Vietnam Campaign Medal.
As Linder said of John, “He was a devoted family man who dearly loved his children and country. He was a good man.”
A HEARTWARMING COINCIDENCE
In 2010, a man who lived in Cincinatti, Ohio, visited the West Side Diner in Fort Worth.
The man, Galen Taylor, was with John the day he was killed, as he laid down fire for other soldiers to retrieve John’s body.
As Taylor was waiting for a table at the diner, he happened to look up. There, on a wall dedicated to heroes, was John’s picture.
Taylor immediately burst into tears.
"My aunt, my mother’s sister, (Ada Randall) she put my dad's picture up on the wall,” Ronnie said. “About a week after she hung it up, a fella came in and was waiting on his kids to show up. He sat down and he saw my dad's picture and he started crying. And so, they called her and said, ‘Hey, there's a man here that just showed up and he saw John's picture and he burst into tears.’ And as it turned out, he was with him the day he was killed.”
Over the next few days, Taylor met with Ronnie, Eddie, Randall and two of John’s sisters.
Taylor never expected to find Miller’s family in the Fort Worth area, much less see his picture on the wall of a café because as far as he knew, Miller was from Illinois.
“He was originally from Illinois, from West Point, Illinois, but we had moved back. We were from Hood County,” Ronnie said.
“He was all Army,” said Taylor of John in a 2010 Hood County News article. “He was there to look out for his men. He was a good man.”
LIVING IN PRIDE
Although Ronnie barely remembers his father, the information he does have is enough for him to take pride in the fact that his father was a brave leader, and protective of both his troops and his family.
“The only things I can remember really is that when the house was cleaner than it had been in three or four months, and there was a certain kind of candy in the candy dish — it's a Brach’s candy with hazelnut in the center and some kind of cream over the top — my dad was coming home,” Ronnie said. “When it was just my mother she'd say, ‘Alright guys, it's time to brush your teeth and get ready for bed.’ We got three or four more warnings. But when dad came home, one time, that's it. That's different. More discipline.”
Ronnie’s brother Eddie, who was nine at the time of John’s death and has since passed away, was very close with John.
"I do remember the last time he was home,” Ronnie said. “This was just days before he was killed. We were eating at my grandmother's house and everybody was there. And he was out on the front porch with my brother. He put my brother up on his knee and told him, ‘I'm so proud to have you take care of mom and Ron. When I'm away, you're the man of the house.’ Within a week, he was killed.”
A fond memory Ronnie has of John is when his mom, Bonnie, sent John a Stanley hairbrush — and he immediately sent it back.
"Back during that time period, Stanley hairbrushes and Kirby vacuum cleaners were big items for home and he had a healthy head of hair, you know. Anyway, my mother bought him a Stanley hairbrush and sent it to him in Vietnam. And with all the stress, he had gone bald, and he sent it back. He didn't think he'd need it,” Ronnie said with a chuckle, adding, “But he grew his hair back in time.”
Ronnie said he can’t explain much about what it was like to have a Vietnam father, but he does remember, “Brach’s candy, and when he said to do something, to get it done.”