James Lee Miller - 1st Lieutenant

Rank: 1st Lieutenant
Date Of Birth: Jun 25, 1943
Date Of Death: Dec 14, 1967
War / Conflict: Vietnam
Hometown: Maquoketa, Iowa
Gold Star Hall - Wall Location: Northeast Wall (by Entrance Door)
Service Branch: Army
Service Ribbons Awarded:
  • Purple Heart

Biography

On New Year’s Eve, December 31, 1938, James Lee Miller’s parents, Bill and Dorothy Miller, joined their lives together in marriage. Bill was born in Cresco, Iowa, in the northeast corner of the state and his family later moved south to Maquoketa. Dorothy was born in Vandalia, Illinois and her family also moved to Maquoketa, where she went to high school and met Bill. They lived in Maquoketa for several years. During WWII, Bill served with the US Army in Italy, as a member of the “Blue Devils,” the 88th Infantry Division.

Bill and Dorothy had two sons. The first was James Lee Miller, known as Jim, born on June 25, 1943. Five years later, Jim was joined by his brother, John, born on December 6, 1948. They were the only children of Bill and Dorothy Miller. Altogether they enjoyed a rich and rewarding life growing up, involving traveling, camping, meeting new friends, contributing to their communities and spending quality family time together.

While growing up, Jim’s family moved around quite a bit. His father, Bill, was a carpenter and later a construction project manager. They traveled to where the work took them. After WWII, Bill was working for the DuPont Company in Clinton, IA. DuPont transferred Bill to Sellersburg, Indiana in 1952 to work at the Indiana Ordnance Works, a munitions factory for the US Government, to support the Korean War. Jim and John were close playmates through this time. It was when Jim started school and later, 5 years after, John started school, that their lives moved in different circles and grew different friends along the road.

Jim started his path through school at an elementary school in Maquoketa, Iowa. When the family moved to southern Indiana, Jim attended the Stout Elementary School in Sellersburg, Indiana. John joined Jim at Stout in 1954. Jim was in 6th grade and John was in 1st grade. Jim’s high school career began at Silver Creek High School in Speed, Indiana. He there developed a passion for basketball and would carry it with him through his high school career. Bill left DuPont sometime early in 1959.

In the summer that year, the family moved to Terceira Island in the Azores. They initially lived in the city of Angra de Herosamo, the capital of the island. When school started, they moved into housing on the Lajes Air Force base. There Bill Miller oversaw the building of a new Airmen’s Dormitory and the lengthening one of the base’s runways. Lajes was a joint forces base involving the Portuguese Air Force, US Air Force, and US Navy. During all these moves and more relocations to follow, Dorothy became adept at finding part time jobs and churches where the family could socialize, meet people, and attend regular activities.

In the Azores, while John attended sixth grade in a newly constructed Elementary School, Jim completed the 11th grade in old WWII Quonset huts that were converted into classrooms. In the summer of 1960, his family traveled through Portugal, Spain, France, and Canada. Given his father’s itinerant project management, Jim was never short of opportunities to explore the world.

After their sojourn in the North Atlantic, the family settled in Randallstown, Maryland, west of Baltimore. Bill had taken a job with a Baltimore Contractors and helped build the Baltimore Civic Center later renovated and known as the CFG Bank Arena today. This was in 1961, when Jim completed his senior year at Milford High School. The family then moved again in May to West Friendship, Maryland, as the metropolitan area of Baltimore became congested. Jim started his freshman year at Iowa State University in September. He enrolled in the College of Agriculture and became a member of the Army ROTC.  

Given his many years of moving and starting over in new places, Jim knew how to keep himself busy and involved in each community he found himself a part of. While a student in Ames, Jim was a resident of Griffith House in the Westgate dormitory. He developed close friendships with some of his dorm mates and frequently went home with them for weekends and holidays rather than traveling back to Maryland where his family was living. During his years in Indiana and Maryland, Jim developed a love for hunting and fishing. So, when he went home with his dorm mates, he enjoyed the great outdoors while hunting and fishing in Iowa.

Jim was not at Iowa State for too long before he found himself back home in Maryland. Jim took up working in construction while taking classes at Catonsville Community College. In January 1963, his father had been called back to work for DuPont to supervise a major expansion major at their Nylon Plant in Seaford, Delaware. Dorothy and John moved to Seaford in March of 1963, but Jim chose to stay in Maryland to continue his schooling and work on construction.

 In June 1963, Bill took a job with RCA at the US Air Force Ballistic Missile Early Warning System in Clear, Alaska, again as the site’s Construction and Maintenance Manager. Dorothy and John stayed in Seaford while John attended his sophomore year in high school and Jim continued his education in Maryland.

In the summer of 1964, Dorothy, Jim, and John drove the family car from Seaford, Delaware, to the small town of Nenana, Alaska. Dorothy and Jim drove the 4,300 miles from Seaford up the Alaskan Highway.

In 1964, this highway was not yet paved and was a gravel road most of the way. John could not help with the driving because he did not have his driver’s license.

The family had rented a mobile home and planned to spend the summer in Nenana, Alaska. They arrived on June 20th and the next day attended a family picnic on the Air Force site at midnight because there was still daylight at midnight. Jim decided to work that summer at the construction site and fell in love with Alaska and the hunting and fishing opportunities that he found there.

Jim chose not to return to the “Lower 48” at the end of that summer. John and Dorothy drove back to Delaware for the school year. Jim enrolled in the University of Alaska, majoring in Business Administration, and graduated in 1966. While at the University of Alaska, Jim also enrolled in the Army ROTC unit on campus, achieving the rank of Cadet Major. He was also Executive Officer for the unit, and received the “Distinguished Military Student” Award. With this experience, he had found his new calling – he wanted to make a career out of the Army.

Perhaps due to his constant moving, he never married and was devoted to his career in the Army. He had a few committed relationships in his time but often cut them off to stay focused and not hurt anyone. In 1966 he received an official Army commission. Jim went through Advanced Infantry Training at Fort Benning, Georgia, going on to an Army Ranger Training Course. He remained at Fort Benning until he was deployed to Vietnam. 

Just before his deployment, he went home to Seaford, Delaware, to visit his parents. Bill had returned here from Alaska as he had suffered a heart attack in February of 1965. He stopped in Ames to visit his brother John who was in his sophomore year at ISU, majoring in Engineering Science. That fall quarter, John was living in Wallace Hall at the Towers. Little did he know it at the time, but it would be the last time that he would see his brother.

Jim was assigned platoon leader for the 1st Platoon of Company C, 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry, of the 25th Infantry Division in Vietnam. He reported to his unit in the Cu Chi area on October 10th, 1967, northwest of the city of Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh City as it is known today. This was the base camp for the 25th Infantry Division. His first letter home indicated he was so tired the first night from traveling straight through from Ames to Saigon that he slept through an artillery barrage that was landing 200 meters away. Jim was promoted to 1st Lieutenant in early October of 1967. 

Later his unit moved to the region around Tay Ninh, Vietnam, which is approximately 50 miles Northwest of the City of Saigon. His last known activity was penetrating the perimeter of an enemy base camp 10 km west-northwest of Katum Airfield. His platoon was in reserve to support another unit leading into the area. The forward platoon came under heavy mortar attack and suffered many casualties. Jim and his Radio Telephone Operator moved forward to take command of the remaining troops and withdraw them to a safer position.

However, during this maneuver, Jim suffered major shrapnel wounds while trying to save another officer and died on December 14, 1967, in the Vietnam 45th Surgical Hospital. His family first heard the terrible news by telegram.

His brother John said, “When he was in college, before he was commissioned to go into the Army, he said his first choice was Vietnam because ‘it was just something I had to do.’” He fully intended to make a career in the Army and retire as a General. John states that he was very “ambitious and determined” and that other officers believed that “he would have done well in the service and excelled.”

Jim was buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, and his name is on the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington DC. He was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.