Like many from his generation and his war, Jerry Miller didn’t really talk about it much when he came home.
Over the last several years, more than 40 years since his service concluded, Miller says it feels like people are finally interested in the history of the Vietnam War and that talking about it has become more acceptable.
“It was an unpopular war,” Miller said. “It was just one of those things, we were as likely to get spit on as we were to get a pat on the back.”
Miller had graduated from Colfax High School in 1963, and he attempted to enlist in the military the same year. They wouldn’t take him at the time, citing his color-blindness as an impediment to his service, but that didn’t stop them from sending out his draft notice in April of 1968.
“I got my notice, so I turned up for formation … they wanted me to be in the Marines, but my notice said I was for the Army,” Miller said. “They asked me if I was a trouble-maker, I said no, I just want to be in the Army, so they sent me off to Ft. Bliss, Texas, for eight weeks of basic training.”
After his time at basic concluded, Miller had the option to obtain additional training or ship out as a basic infantry-man. He accepted nine additional months of schooling in exchange for a one-year extension to his enlistment, and he trained to become a helicopter gun maintenance specialist which granted him the rank of Specialist (E5).
After his training concluded, he spent several months helping teach at the school before he was finally called up for deployment to Vietnam.
He shipped out in the fall of 1969.
Miller was shifted around the country often, serving where they needed him, but a large portion of his time was spent in the Central Highlands with the 4th Infantry.
“I loved to fly up in the choppers,” he said. Most of his duty was spent on the ground, keeping the helicopters in serviceable condition and maintaining the guns, but he was able to fly out on some patrols.
“We would get shot at from time to time … One time, we got back to base camp and after counting we had taken 52 rounds … They shot out the transmission, which is usually enough to bring the chopper down, but we made it back.”
Miller returned to the United States in December of 1970 and went back to work on a local farm and at Maytag, but the effects of the war came back with him.
Over the years, he has had a number of health problems which were recently attributed to the harmful effects of Agent Orange, to which he was exposed during his duty. Miller struggled to receive treatment or aid through the Veterans Affairs hospitals, being turned away several times before a staff member found an irregularity with his admissions and interceded on his behalf.
“They told me that it seemed like someone had been trying to keep me out of there … We never found out what was going on, but I’m able to go now,” Miller said.
Miller stays involved with a number of veterans’ groups, including AmVets, the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans and the VFW.
Despite the hardships of the military, he is able to look back fondly on most of his service.
“I enjoyed my time in the Army. I met a lot of interesting people and got to do great stuff,” Miller said. “I’d recommend it … It’s a real growing-up experience that forces you to learn a bit.”
Not only would he recommend it, but Miller suggests that two years of mandatory military service for young adults could reap positive rewards, both for the country and for the young adults enlisting.