Charlie Miller has been named the Vietnam veteran of the year in Alabama.
Miller, president of the Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 1067 of Huntsville, received that recognition from state president Wayne Reynolds.
He left Huntsville on Thursday to be recognized in Birmingham where he would be presented in a parade on Veterans Day, Nov. 11.
“That’s the oldest Veterans Parade in America,” Miller said.
With 665 members, Chapter 1067 is the largest of the 10 chapters in Alabama and the eighth largest in the nation. Vietnam Veterans of America, based in Silver Springs, Maryland, has 85,000 members and 650 chapters.
“This year has been very, very emotional for our chapter,” Miller said, “because we’ve had to do so many homegoing celebrations for our chapter members. And the reason being we’re all in our golden years and still struggling with the ailments of the Vietnam War.
“However, our community and family members have made a difference in making us feel so honored to have served.”
Miller, the 11-year-old chapter’s president since 2016, is 78. “I’ll be 79 next month and still proud to serve,” he said.
The retired command sergeant major shared his thoughts on Veterans Day.
“First off, I thank America for their outpouring of love for our veterans, and especially our Vietnam veterans. You know, we never got honored when we came home from the war,” he said.
Miller is from Greenville, Florida, a small town about 35 miles east of Tallahassee. He graduated from the then Greenville Training School in May 1961 and joined the Army a month later because he was looking for work. Some of his mentors in the community told him he should enter the military because he had good discipline and good character.
He had basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. When he turned 18 in December 1961, he returned home to marry his childhood sweetheart, Barbara Ann. Miller came to Redstone in 1964 for training as an ammunition specialist at the Ordnance school. He did so well at the school that he was retained as an instructor. This would become the first of his three tours at Redstone: 1964-67, 1969-70 and 1987-91. He retired in 1991 as the command sergeant major of the then Ordnance Missile and Munitions Center and School after 30 years in the Army.
In June 1970 Miller went to Da Nang, Vietnam, as a platoon sergeant with the 1st Aviation Brigade. He ran an ammunition supply point and petroleum fuel supply point and he had about 35 Soldiers under him. Their job was to rearm and refuel the utility helicopters that returned from the field. This was a 24-hours-per day, 7-days-per week mission. There were nightly mortar attacks on their compound.
That August a mortar round hit Miller’s bunker, injuring two Soldiers who were at the front. Miller was uninjured because he happened to be in the back of the bunker. The two ammunition specialists were treated at the hospital and returned to the unit after a week or so.
“I remember that clearly,” Miller said. “At that point, I realized it was real.”
He still remembers the frequent sound of helicopters, which damaged his hearing, and the smell of formaldehyde which was used to ship the bodies of U.S. service members back to the states. “That smell is always in my nostrils,” he said.
Miller received a bachelor’s in marketing from the University of Maryland in 1983 and a bachelor’s in religion education from the then Athens College in 1993.
The Huntsville resident and his wife of almost 61 years, Barbara Ann, have two grown children and a grandchild. Eric, a Florida State graduate, resides in Loganville, Georgia, right outside Atlanta. Tara Davison, an Auburn grad, lives in Douglasville, Georgia. Their granddaughter, Taylor Stringfield, of Douglasville, is a journalism student at Georgia State.
Editor’s note: This is the 396th in a series of articles about Vietnam veterans as the United States commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.