BLEVINS: Another American pilot in the Vietnam War

By Vivian Blevins

To some of us, the Vietnam War seems like yesterday; however, when we do a  reality check, we realize that for those who served there it was a half century  plus. And their experiences in that war are at times played out again in their  dreams or are triggered in other ways. Take a brief trip with me via my interview  with an American pilot who served in that war.

James Edward Miller of Troy, Ohio, asserts, “When an American GI is in a foreign  country, he must learn some basic things about that country. It’s an insult not to.  I’ve lost some of my ability to communicate in Vietnamese, but some of it still  sticks with me. We were there to stem Communism. I believed that then, and I  still believe it.”

A business major at Bowling Green State University after graduating from Poland  Seminary High School in 1963, Miller discovered play time was more important  than study time. Believing that he would soon be getting one of those special  letters that young men at that time were receiving from Uncle Sam, he knew he  had a decision to make.

He went to a friend’s house where he got advice from his friend’s father, a full bird colonel, “James, do you like to fly? There’s a Warrant Officers Rotary Wing  Aviation Course in which you can sleep on clean sheets every night or you can be  attempting to get a few winks in a muddy foxhole.”

This sage advice led Miller to the draft board at Youngstown, Ohio, and from  there to the Cleveland Induction Center where he received his physical and was  sworn into the U.S. Army in December of 1965.

His prior sense of the military had been his observations of his father, Eli Miller,  who was a machine gunner on an armored half-track in the European Theater  during World War II. A Purple Heart recipient who suffered a permanent injury to  his hand when his vehicle hit a mine, Mr. Miller never talked about his  experience.

Following induction, Miller soon was involved in educational experiences of a  different kind from those at BGSU. Of his basic training at Fort Polk in Louisiana he  reports, “It was hell- the lowest point in my life with physical and mental abuse.  We arrived at the base late at night and had to wait out on the grinder from 2  A.M. until 6 or 7. Then, they made us run to the mess hall which was two miles  away with men puking their guts out,and then we had to run back with a drill  sergeant ridiculing us. Our punishment for infractions was the dying bug position,  lying on our backs with arms and legs up.”

He says that later came the mental tests where they were told they’d be shot at in Vietnam and their job was to concentrate on the mission. And there were those  proficiency tests.

Following the rigors of Fort Polk, Miller had a month’s leave before he was off to Fort Walters in Texas and Fort Rucker in Alabama to learn how to fly basic training helicopters and then the Huey helicopter (UH-1D) with the specific flying skills  necessary in Vietnam.

Of those lessons, Miller says, “There was no autopilot in helicopters at that time,  and both hands and feet were busy all the time. It was like patting your head,  rubbing your stomach, and doing a jig all at the same time.”

Miller was promoted to Warrant Officer with his flying wings and in February of  1967, it was off to Vietnam. “When we went to work in Vietnam flying  helicopters, it was like nothing we’d ever done. In World War II there was a front  line; in Vietnam the enemy was everywhere. We were always on alert, could  never let down for if we did, the enemy would strike. We were shot at every day.”

And Miller had experiences in the Mekong Delta at age 22 that still stay with him  at age 75, Triggers still occur: transporting wounded or dead, being under mortar  and rocket fire, direct artillery fire in outposts under attack. One scene he was  required to fly over 10 to 12 times stays with him: the trunk of a body, limbs  missing, positioned up against a tree.

The North Vietnamese Army tried to overrun Miller’s base twice in the year he  was there. His mission was “ash and trash” as he words it: to bring in supplies, to

transport troops with the occasional compliment, “The helicopter you sent saved  our ass.” Miller received a half-dozen medals for his service in Vietnam but is  most proud of the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism.

Hollywood actors came to the war zone. Miller says, “Charlton Heston and  Martha Raye went into the boondocks, put their lives on the line- unlike Bob  Hope who only showed up to entertain thousands.”

As Miller returned to the U.S. after his year in Vietnam, he like so many others before and after at the airport in San Francisco, was greeted by protestors. Since  he arrived at 2 A.M., he says, “No one threw anything at me- a friend had a  bucket of urine thrown at him. All I got was a little screaming, nothing compared  to getting shot at.”

In conclusion, the average age of the American soldier on the ground in Vietnam  was 19. As a pilot, Miller went there at age 21 and turned 22 while there. To you,  my readers, I ask, “Where were you at age 19, 20, 21,22?”

Miller has recorded his military service in “Warrior Two Six” available at  Amazon.com.

Thank you, Jim, for your valor, your service to our country.

And in case any of you are interested, Jim earned his college degree in 1997 in  Aviation Technology from Capital University. And when Martha Raye was at the  Memorial Hall in Dayton performing in “Annie” and was not signing autographs,

Miller was told, “Right this way, sir” and was escorted to her dressing room where they had a 30-minute conversation about how it was back in the days of the  Vietnam War.