I like interviewing American soldiers and veterans. I think they all have a message for us of commitment, sacrifice and dedication to country. This man and his family are long-time friends from my church, First Church of Christ in Bluffton IN. It was an honor to write about him here. Thanks, Jim!
Growing up in Huntington County in the 1940s, Jim Miller was exposed to the highs and lows of military life through family members. Two uncles Lloyd Overholt and Clyde Miller had served with the Army in World War II. His brother Milward also served in the Army.
It seemed a natural progression for Miller to enlist in the Army in 1961. Still, he possibly never dreamed of the heights his military career would take him.
Miller was sent to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, for basic training. He and the other members of his platoon carried full packs for 20-mile hikes. “When we were done with each hike, most of us passed out,” he said.
Miller volunteered to train with military police (MP) at Fort Gordon, Georgia. “I had wanted to be a state trooper when I got out of high school,” he said. “I thought this might be good preparation.” Miller had owned a rifle while growing up and loved to hunt.
Miller’s main job as a MP was traffic control and patrolling the highways of Kentucky and Tennessee. “If a military person was involved in a traffic accident, it was regulation to have a MP at the scene,” said Miller. Other duties included serving as body guard for General William Westmoreland and other high-ranking officials.
When Miller volunteered to join the 101st Airborne at Ft Campbell Kentucky, he shocked himself. “I wanted to fly a plane, but my mother didn’t think it was safe,” he said. “So I jumped from one instead.” Miller made 100 successful jumps. “It was an exhilarating feeling,” he said.
During the next two years, Miller experienced more thrills from the military than what could be gained from jumping out of planes.
In October 1962 Russia claimed to have missiles in Cuba aimed at the US so American soldiers were put on alert for what was known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. “We kept a vigil in the air with live ammo for eight hours,” he said. “We thought for sure the U.S. would invade Cuba.” Thankfully, Russia removed the missiles a few weeks later with no further incident.
A year later, Miller and several thousand other American soldiers were sent to University, Mississippi. Tension was high as Ross Barnett, the state’s governor, had unwillingly allowed admittance of an African-American student named James Meredith to the university. In Brown v. Board of Education (1955), the US Supreme Court ruled that publicly supported schools had to be desegregated.
After Barnett refused Meredith’s application twice, US Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy intervened, finally convincing the governor to enroll Meredith in the university. On October 1, 1962, Meredith became the first African-American student enrolled at the University of Mississippi.
White students and anti-desegregation supporters protested his enrollment by rioting on the Oxford campus. The soldiers’ assignment was to maintain peace at the University of Mississippi and surrounding community.
For several months soldiers inspected every vehicle on the campus and the town. Miller vividly recalled the tense situation in University. “I had never seen people with hate in their eyes before,” he said. “The residents of the town didn’t want us there and they let us know it. They called us every name in the book.”
Miller found it interesting that while the residents objected to Meredith’s presence, the university’s students seemed to accept Meredith.
Then there was the most notorious incident that occurred on November 22, 1963. Miller was on traffic control for a military football game when word came that President John F. Kennedy had been shot.
The game was immediately called off. Every American military base in the nation was put on alert. “We didn’t know who had killed the president and we were prepared for whatever action we would have to take,” said Miller. The base stayed on alert status for three months following the assassination.
In April 1964 Miller was honorably discharged from the military. He had married in 1962. At that time many soldiers were being sent to Vietnam. Miller preferred to stay home and create a new life with a family as a civilian. After his military career, Miller worked 37 years for various railroad companies. He also worked as a farmer until 2012. Jim and his wife Lana are the parents of two daughters and a son. They have several grandchildren.
“It’s been an exciting life,” said Miller. “The Army showed me things I never knew and taught me many lessons. It was a good experience.”