Charles Miller - Lance Corporal
Written by Charles sister, Mary Ann:
Charles Claude Miller, named after his two grandfathers, was born January 27, 1945 on a cold snowy day in St. Peter, Minnesota. He was known to his parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles as Chuckie but through the years at various intervals he was also known as Charles, Charlie, Chuck, or Chas. To me, though, he was always Chuck, my little brother. Life in Minnesota was pretty simple in the early years. We played, went camping, fishing, boating. He loved the outdoors.
Then in 1953 when Chuck was 8, we moved to Mt. Pleasant, Iowa where our dad became the manager of the new Cargill plant.
I don’t know if somehow Chuck knew his life here on earth would be short, but for whatever reason he packed an awful lot into his 23 years.
I remember helping him learn to tie all those knots to earn one of his merit badges when he was a little Cub Scout. He stuck with it - earning lots of badges, earning his God & Country, being tapped into the Order of the Arrow, and finally becoming an Eagle Scout.
Around 5th grade he started with band – first the cornet, but he quickly changed to the drums - one of his great loves. He and several of his buddies had a very popular dance band in High School. Our mother especially loved to hear him play the tympanis drums at Easter services. The whole church would just reverberate. He’s the only person I know who could actually play tunes on those big kettledrums. He was in the band and pep band. He played football. He played baseball. Of course, he detasseled corn in the summer. He sang in the mixed chorus and special chorus. He performed in plays. He was an exceptional artist painting with oils and doing sculptures. He got great grades in school. He was active in the church. He had and went to parties. He dated - lots of girls. He was very gregarious and popular with both boys and girls. And he found cars - another of his great loves. He could take apart a car and put it back together. The second stall of the garage always had a vehicle in the midst of repair or renovation.
Chuck had just completed his sophomore year in high school when our dad died suddenly. I was newly married and had moved away, so Chuck became the head of household. He took a job at the local gas station. That was in the days when they not only pumped gas and washed your windshield, they also changed oil, filters, rotated tires, did small repairs, etc. The old-fashioned full service gas station.
Chuck graduated High School the spring of 1963 and started college at Iowa Wesleyan in his hometown of Mt. Pleasant and lived at home with mother. There he was a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity. He was as popular in college as he had been in high school. He was voted the Little Wheel at Homecoming. He stayed two years but wanted to go into engineering so, of course he transferred to Iowa State University for the 65/66 school year.
The Viet Nam war was escalating and we were sending more troops to help. My brother, with the vehement objections of our mother, enlisted before his senior year at ISU in the Marine Corps. Perhaps a quote from one of the letters he sent to our mother from Viet Nam would explain his mindset at the time. He wrote, “ We’re here because we’re Christians. You could never see these Vietnamese and not love and want to protect them. It must have been much like Lafayette felt for America during the Revolutionary War.”
Mom and I went out to California to see him off to Viet Nam in the fall of 1967.
He reached the rank of Lance Corporal and was the radio operator of his special unit. The family was gathered for Easter Sunday dinner April 14, 1968 when a military vehicle pulled up with our Pastor - we knew. Chuck had been killed 10 days earlier on April 4, 1968 by shrapnel from enemy fire. Chuck was awarded meritorious merit posthumously.
By this time I had three small daughters. Uncle Chuck was a favorite with them all. He even bought three silk Viet Nam pajama style outfits during an R & R in Nam and mailed them to the girls the Christmas before he was killed. When Chuck was returned to us, my oldest daughter Cheryl who was 6 at the time, my mother and I went to the Funeral Home. We were not able to view Chuck so mother explained to Cheryl that Uncle Chuck was in the casket. My daughter said,” No he’s not. That’s just his body. Uncle Chuck is in heaven. God needed a big strong Marine so he sent for Uncle Chuck.” Needless to say, the Pastor used this quote as part of the service.
I miss my brother and regret not being able to share so many things with him. I’ll close with a quote from Chuck in the last letter our mother received from him written by candlelight 10:30 at night while on radio watch on March 26th (9 days before his death). After detailing the events of the previous several days, he ended his letter with this, “Well, time to go – Don’t worry. I’m keeping in good touch with the Man upstairs and He’s keeping up pretty well with me - but Mom, if He wants me, He’ll take me so I don’t have anything to worry about and neither do you, Mom. I’ll be in Good Hands. Don’t worry – I’m doing just fine - Good night now. Love, Chuck”