Normally I write about “good Samaritans” who go unrecognized by the larger viewing audience. Unlike those acknowledged for their good deeds in the national media, local “heroes” are never seen beyond their community, region or state. But I decided to make an exception with Staff Sergeant Robert Miller who was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Obama today. I had a change of heart because he was 24 years old, the same age as my daughter. I could imagine myself in his parents’ shoes, but would I really want to?
Miller died on January 25, 2008, far from the comforts of home and the loving arms of his parents and 7 siblings. But on his second tour of duty in Afghanistan, he spent his days and nights in the company of another “family.” Fellow Green Berets, and Afghani soldiers who shared a life in common, but one that bordered on death. And so it is not surprising that Miller died, so his “brothers” could live. The youngest member of his squad, he was fearless.
On a mission to find high-value enemy insurgents, Miller’s team of eight elite American soldiers and 15 Afghan troops were moving along a rocky, snow-covered trail when the first shots rang out. Miller’s captain was injured almost immediately.
As the squad took cover Robert realized they were badly outnumbered from above. Rather than retreat to safer ground he ran directly at the enemy, killing numerous militants and providing his men with the cover they needed to escape.
His parents were told he saved the lives of 22 men, seven of them fellow members of the US Army Special Forces.
‘As they got near the structure there was ambush, they were attacked by over 100 insurgents–they had hidden behind boulders, it was a very intense situation,’ his mother Maureen Miller said …
His father Phil Miller was proud of what his son had done.
‘He essentially stayed in the kill zone to keep control of the situation and allowed everybody else to get out of the kill zone and basically gave them a chance to reorganize and regroup,’ he said. …
He died holding his rifle, firing until it ran out of ammunition. He had thrown his last grenade and fought for 25 minutes after having been shot twice in the shoulder and ribs.
Sgt. Nick McGarry was one of the men he saved that day.
‘I would see him go to another place, attack that area, attack another area, attack another area. I can honestly say, if he wouldn’t have done that, we probably would have gotten flanked and a lot more people would have died,’ he said.
Members of his unit said there were so many bullets hitting the ground around him that the dust kicked up made him invisible, but he kept firing until the end.
My husband and I were college students when we started dating in the late 60’s. The Vietnam War was underway, and so was the lottery system which recruited young men into military service. It was a nail-biting time, as we waited to see if my husband’s low number would be called. We were grateful that he escaped recruitment, because he would most certainly have seen battle in Vietnam.
Unfortunately my brother Ed wasn’t as lucky. He served in Vietnam for a couple of years as a radio dispatcher. I vaguely remember the horror stories he related about his wartime experiences. I do recall that a good buddy was blown to pieces before my brother’s eyes, and that he slept with a pistol beneath his pillow, a habit he carried over into civilian life. As though it were yesterday, I can see my brother searching the names on the Wall, Vietnam’s Memorial to fallen soldiers, looking for his deceased comrades. Ed enlisted as a young man “wet behind the ears,” but he returned home a survivor of war, barely hanging onto his sanity.
I’m grateful for my brother’s life, despite the scars that have been forever imprinted upon his psyche. The love of family and long-time friends, and 40+ years working for the same employer, has helped my brother resume a normal life. I wish Sergeant Robert Miller might have returned home to his family; I wish they could have helped him “pick up the pieces” of his life.
Where do 24 year olds find the courage to make decisions which belie their young age? How do 24 year olds decide between life and death? How do 24 year olds choose death? We who love them unconditionally can influence their decision, by showing them that death is all about life.
for brave young people, huge hugs…hugmamma.