Just One of Our Fallen Heroes
As this Memorial Day approaches, the Vietnam War has been over for 35 years, and yet for many of us; the memories of lost friends, and loved ones is indelibly etched in our minds.
Hopefully, you and your friends, family and loved-ones will pause Monday to remember those men and women in uniform who have gone before us and made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms and our way of life.
Over 2.7 million Americans served in the Vietnam War. Of that number, 300,000 were wounded in action, and 75,000 were disabled. Of the 58,200 names listed on the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, 1,046 are Marylanders who made the ultimate sacrifice in the Vietnam War.
Some we knew. Some we didn’t. But they were all someone’s son or father, daughter or mother, sister or brother or aunt or uncle – or a cherished childhood friend. Their faces have been silent for many years, but they all have a story to tell.
One of the stories is that of U.S. Army Capt. Christopher Jesse Miller, Jr., who died at the age of 34 on October 29, 1966, two months after he had arrived in Vietnam August 24, 1966.
He was killed while commanding the 1542 Infantry Unit of the 1st Cavalry Division in Binh Dinh Province in the II Corps Tactical Zone during Operation Irving, which took place from October 2 to 24, 1966.
Twenty-nine U.S. troops lost their lives during the 23-day duration of Operation Irving. The 1st Air Cavalry lost 5,310 troopers killed in action while serving in Vietnam from 1965 to 1972.
Binh Dinh Province, located along the coastline in the center of Vietnam, was at the time one of the most populated provinces in South Vietnam and had been firmly in the control of the communists for decades.
Although the purpose of Operation Irving was multi-tasked, it was in part, a response to the North Vietnamese “Winter Spring Campaign,” launched in August 1965 by North Vietnamese Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap and implemented, in part, by the Viet Cong field commander Gen. Chu Huy Man. The campaign was designed to split South Vietnam in two – from Pleiku in the Highlands to Qui Nhon, in Binh Dinh on the coast.
Historically the area was once part of the Kingdom of Champa, a traditionally non-Vietnamese section of the country that was not fully under the control of the Vietnamese until 1832. The loyalty of the population of the area was to anyone but the South Vietnamese and certainly not the Americans.
It was the capital of Communist Region 5, and from 1945 to 1954 the region was so dangerous that the French never set foot there during the French-Indochina War years. It was also the home of the renowned North Vietnamese Army 3 Yellow Stars Division and the Communist Region 5 Division.
Operation Irving involved combined elements from the 1st Cavalry Division, under the command of Maj. Gen. John Norton, with the 22nd Division of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, commanded by the famed then-Colonel Nguyễn Văn Hiệu, and the Capital Division of the Republic of Korea units pitted against the 610th Division of the North Vietnamese Army.
It was in this context, arguably one of the most dangerous places in Vietnam at the time, in which Captain Miller had returned from two missions and was asleep in a rest tent when he was wounded by a sniper – a persistent hazard in the area – on October 20. He died October 29, 1966, from his wound.
In addition to his son Christopher, who was born less than three-weeks before he was deployed, Captain Miller was survived by two daughters, Susan and Sarah, his wife, the former Margaret (Peggy) Stewart, and his Mom, Mrs. Charles Kalten of Littlestown Road in Westminster.
According to a tribute written by West Point classmate Dick Baker for the May 1995 issue of Assembly and republished in “Tours of Duty: Carroll County and the Vietnam War,” compiled by Gary D. Jestes and Jay A. Graybeal; Captain Miller was born on the 4th of July, 1932, in Richmond VA.
His family subsequently moved to Washington, where he lived until he was 10 years old, when his family moved to Westminster. He graduated from Westminster High School in 1949 at the age of sixteen.
Before he was appointed to the United States Military Academy at West Point, Captain Miller spent two years preparing. First, he studied for one year at Western Maryland College and another year at Bullis Preparatory School before enrolling at West Point July 3, 1951, and “settling into Company I-1.”
After he graduated from The Point in June 1955, he was deployed to South Korea on May 3, 1956. On September 16, 1957, 16 days after he returned from Korea, he married Peggy Stewart.
After moving about the country in several different assignments, Captain Miller and his family went to Fort Greenley, AK, “with several good friends of long standing along with the fishing and hunting opportunities that are only available in Alaska,” continued Mr. Baker.
At this point Mr. Baker observes that Captain Miller could have had any number of “safe” assignments, but he volunteered to serve in Vietnam.
Mr. Baker also notes that Captain Miller’s name is misspelled on the Vietnam Memorial in Washington – “Christopher J.J. Miller, Jr. – with an extra ‘J.’ “Chris would probably have found great humor in this, but – at the same time – he would have likely been intolerant of the mistake.”
Captain Miller was buried with full military honors at West Point. He may be found at Panel 11E Line 092, on the cold black granite Vietnam Memorial; but we will never forget his service and supreme sacrifice for our country – and forever hold him in a warm place in our hearts.
Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. E-mail him at email@example.com .