Medal Of Honor Receiptient former
3rd Group Member Doug Miller visits 1998
|3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne)|
Doug Miller recounts Combat Experience
FORT BRAGG, N.C.
The mustache has a frostier look, and he carries some extra weight on his long frame. After 28 years of a soldier's life, he shows most of his 53 years.
He settles into Martha Raye's furniture and smiles as he talks about soldiers and soldiering, bearing the countenance of a Fatherly Sergeant Major.
"I'm just a regular guy," he says. "I know heroes. Me, I just did some shooting on that day."
But the eyes give him away. They are as steely blue today as in the portrait of a much-younger retired Command Sgt. Maj. Franklin "Doug" Miller that hangs in the Hall of Heroes at the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School here.
It's in the eyes of the man who won the Medal of Honor in 1970 for his actions in the mountains of Laos that his story emerges.
His eyes dance, burn and they glow with intensity ... and at times they mist, as he recounts the six years he spent in Vietnam as a Special Forces soldier.
While the erstwhile tourist didn't expect to become a keynote speaker, he welcomed the opportunity to talk to present and future Special Forces soldiers.
"I want them to know that all the things they are learning really do work in combat," said Miller.
Combat is something he became well versed in during his six-year tour in Vietnam, as a member of the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) and the Studies and Observations Group.
This is the subject that gradually raises his blood pressure as his sits in the Martha Raye Room of the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Museum July 20.
Casually he tells of growing up in New Mexico, learning the military style at St. Mary's home, then how he and his brother both ended up in the Army.
"My brother and I used to have these talks all the time, we both thought the military would be something we would want to do," Miller said. "He thought the Navy would be really good.
"Somewhere along the line I saw a poster of a paratrooper, and the second I said paratrooper I could see it in his face too."
He followed his brother, Walter, into the Army and Special Forces three years later, in February 1965.
His brother, Walter Miller, is also a retired Command Sergeant Major. He was Col. Bull Simons' radio operator on the Son Tay Raid, an attempt to free U.S. prisoners in North Vietnam.
It was after he completed his Special Forces training and was assigned to 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) as a young private first class that Miller first received orders to Vietnam.
Those distinctive eyes light up when asked to recount how those orders came about. "One day I was the dining room orderly, and the night before I'd been out running around all night, so when I thought no one would miss me I went up to the barracks and I fell sound asleep," he said. "The first people to wake me up were the Company Commander and First Sergeant who were inspecting the billets.
"The First Sergeant said 'You can take your punishment from me or you can go see the old man.' I'd never been in trouble before so I said I'd go see the old man. I figured he would just chew me out.
"He said 'We've got your reassignment orders to Vietnam.'"
Miller went to the 1st Cavalry Division as a regular infantry soldier. While this may have seemed like a negative move for Miller, it instead proved to be a lifesaver.
In the 1st Cav, Miller met the man he considers one of the true heroes - then Sgt. Roy E. Bumgarner.
"There's one person, and remember how I told you I know heroes-his name is Sgt. Bumgarner, and he is without a doubt the most heroic individual I've ever met," Miller said. "In my platoon, that was Superman - and he had a real face, he wasn't some fictional character in a comic book."
From Bumgarner, who lives in Hickory, N.C., Miller learned all he needed to know to survive in Vietnam.
"He is the one most directly responsible for me being here today," Miller said. "Throughout my military career everything I learned from him, the very basics, are what took me all the way through - he was that instrumental.
"That's how important it is for a (noncommissioned officer) to be that person a young soldier can look to and say 'I want to be like that guy.'"
It was Bumgarner - in spirit - who would appear on the fateful day of Jan. 5, 1970, to keep Miller alive.
After two years in Vietnam with the 1st Cav, Miller worked his way back into Special Forces and found himself at Kontum, a Special Forces camp near the borders of Laos, Cambodia and North Vietnam.
"Living at Kontum was like living on the frontier back in the early 1800s," he said. "On the compound there were rules, but the second you were outside the wire, it was a combat zone, no man's land.
"That's the thing about being in Special Forces - you don't get those light-weight jobs, you get to dance with the real guys, not the second string guys. You get to dance with their Super Bowl team."
From Kontum, Miller said Special Forces teams would stage out of Dak To to run missions into Laos and Cambodia.
"Your mission was several things - one, intelligence, number two, get a prisoner and number three, just harass them and give them a hard time to let them know you were in their area," he said. "I found out really fast that no matter who you are, if you're in their area, they're going to get a hold of you sooner or later."
His eyes fade as he tells of hearing teams being wiped out, and being too far away to help.
"You'll hear people on the radio, and you can hear them and it's the last time you'll ever hear their voice," he said in a whisper, "you hear them on the radio and you're with them, because you've lived through that experience."
He speaks warmly of the Montagnards, the Vietnamese hill people who were allies to the U.S. Army, and of the U.S. soldiers he served with in Kontum.
"It was the best lifestyle you could want to have," he said. "It was the best, mainly because the people you were around were of that high caliber, they were just incredibly good. Anyone of them could be the Medal of Honor guy.
"It was an exciting time because of the people I was working with."
And finally - the day.
As a Staff Sergeant and Reconnaissance Patrol Leader (1 - 1), Miller was leading his seven-man patrol in Laos, when a mine exploded seriously injuring five patrol members.
Immediately Miller is out of his seat, pointing at targets and describing the terrain. The eyes are pinpoint sharp and glowing with intensity.
"All I remember is I wasn't in the zone when it went off," he said. "That's the worst feeling in the world - you have seven men and then in the blink of an eye, it's just you and your point man."
A North Vietnamese counter-reconnaissance patrol immediately attacked right on top of Miller. The attacks continued throughout the day as he repeatedly moved his wounded teammates and beat back attack after attack.
"I've never had any hand-to-hand combat, but I've had people at the end of the barrel," he said, demonstrating just how close that actually was.
Every member of the patrol was already wounded, and finally Miller himself was hit, shot in the chest. The entry wound, rounds like a pencil eraser, marks the left side his chest. A nine-inch smile of a scar from the bullet's exit mars his back.
"It was like someone holding your head under water," he said. "I felt like I was being drowned."
At this point, Bumgarner returned to the scene.
"I had something like a religious experience when it happened," Miller said. "I was hit in the chest, and that's pretty much a mortal wound..." He trails off at this point, and pauses to gather his thoughts.
"This situation has a tendency to get to me," he explains. "When you come that close to getting greased, you don't get over it." As he resumes the story, Bumgarner is there.
"I almost started to panic, and when I did, Sgt. Bumgarner was right there, and he said 'calm down, otherwise you'll scare yourself into shock' - that's what I heard. And so I did it, I tried to calm down and think about what I had to do."
Despite his own gunshot wound, Miller was still the only one physically capable of doing anything to defend his team.
"It wasn't heroic. I just thought 'I have people depending on me, they're really hurt.'" As darkness closed in and he was nearly out of ammunition, help arrived and his team was removed. Four of the seven died.
"I'm so proud of my Montagnards and my Americans," he said. "Not one time did they even hint we should just put our hands up and surrender.
"Everything they did allowed me to do what I did that day - they deserved the medal."
Miller went on to serve many more years in the Army, retiring Dec. 1, 1992, after almost 28 years of service. In addition to the Medal of Honor, he was also awarded the silver star, two bronze stars and the purple heart six times.
He is now a veterans benefit counselor for the Department of Veteran Affairs. A single parent, he also has a younger daughter, Melia, eight.
SFAHQ.com, Phil King and Army News Service contributed to this story