The fifth and final part of the series leading up to the dedication of the Veterans Memorial Park in Scottsboro will list names of soldiers killed in action since the Korean conflict.
The dedication of the Veterans Memorial Park will be held at 10 a.m. on Saturday. The public is encouraged to attend a brief dedication ceremony; however, the park will be open for public to visit at their convenience.
In the final part, retired Jackson County Sheriff Dennis Miller spoke with the Jackson County Sentinel about his tour in Vietnam from January-June of 1966.
Miller signed up at 17 after asking his mother to sign for him to enter the United States Army. Two and a half years later he was called up with orders to leave for Vietnam.
“The first two years I was in basics, AIT then jump school,” said Miller. “Following jump school, I was given three choices and later assigned to the 101st Airborne Division. In December of 1965, I received orders to go to Vietnam.”
As war efforts continued in Vietnam, Miller knew it was only a matter of time before he would be going to war. Before heading overseas, Miller was granted leave to visit family in Texas.
“I knew I was going to be in a combat zone,” said Miller. “I knew it wasn’t going to be a vacation. I arrived at a basic camp for the first two weeks before being assigned on sweep and clear missions.”
During his rotations, Miller caught Dengue fever, a mosquito-borne tropical disease. He was sent to a hospital where he was treated for the fever and was also treated for jungle rot.
“Our feet were always wet. We were constantly walking through streams, rivers and rice fields,” said Miller. “Between those and the constant rain, jungle rot was very common for infantry troops.”
Several days later, Miller was released from the hospital and returned to his unit. He saw combat every day. Some days it may have been light, however, the unit was regularly taking enemy fire.
“At night we would set up a perimeter and our artillery unit would fire luminary shells to help light up the surrounding area,” he said. “When the shells would fall you could hear the swooshing noise of the shell falling to the ground. That was the spookiest noise I have ever heard. I’ll never forget that sound.”
During one of the firefights with the enemy, Miller recalls receiving enemy fire. The unit was walking through a rice field and all of a sudden, they heard gun shots and saw water splashing around them.
“I was carrying a scope on my back and when I went to jump behind a dike for cover the scope knocked off my helmet,” Miller said. “I dove for cover behind the dike, but everything seemed like it was in slow motion. The water was jumping around me in slow motion and when I tried to run, I couldn’t. It was like I was dreaming.”
The only correspondence from the states were letters from home and a three-week-old newspaper. Most of what the soldiers in Vietnam heard was negative toward them and the war. Politicians and celebrities were disgracing the military.
“Overall, the United States and the American people are very patriotic toward their military,” he said. “But not this war, not us.”
Miller left Vietnam on June 28, 1966. His six-month tour was over, and he was headed home. He was first sent to Oakland, California, then was able to return home to Texas.
“We flew back on a commercial flight and we had all been told to not have any weapons. We were told we would be searched at each stop,” Miller said. “I stuck a bayonet in my boot, and I was never searched. None of us knew what to expect when we returned home, and I wasn’t going to be left defenseless.”
The day after arriving in the United States, Miller purchased a set of civilian clothes and headed home.
“The only thing I had when I landed in California was the clothes on my back, my razor, toothbrush and toothpaste,” he said.
When he returned home, he decided to get a haircut for the first time. While stationed in Vietnam, the only haircuts he received were those from the Vietnamese, who would come into the camps.
“I went in to get a haircut when I got home,” Miller said. “When I sat down the barber asked who had been cutting my hair. I told him I just got back from Vietnam and hadn’t had a real haircut in six months. He gave me one for free.”
The six months Miller spent in Vietnam were certainly difficult times for any 19-year-old, much less a seasoned soldier. The Sentinel is not able to share many of the stories Miller spoke about during the interview.
“My six months seemed like an eternity,” Miller said. “People don’t understand that once we went out in the jungle, we were sleeping on the ground under ponchos, every bush had thorns and the ants were fierce enough they took chunks out of you, not to mention the leaches were everywhere.”
Following his return to Texas, Miller met his wife, Mary Kimmel and currently resides in Scottsboro. Together, the two have seven children and 10 grandchildren.
“I’m no hero,” he said. “God had a purpose for me and that was my children and grandchildren.”
The following is a list of service members killed in action during the Korean conflict, Vietnam and conflicts since 1973 from Jackson County. In addition, one Prison of War and two Missing in Action names are listed on the Honor Wall.
Brooks, John W. Jr.
Miller, Joe R.
Phillips, Hugh B.
Prestwood, Virgil W.
White, John H.
White, John M.
Wilbourn, Julian D.
Venable, C. H.
Bellomy, Willard G.
Carver, Jerry L.
Chambers, Paul R.
Crocket, James L.
Daniel, Robert G.
Darwin, James D.
Higginbotham, Richard L.
Holkem, Jimmy R.
Hughes, Macklin O.
Miller, Johnnie R.
Mitchell, Eugene E.
Parker, William A.
Phillips, Howard E.
Polk, Kenneth E.
Rodgers, Bobby R.
Rogers, Clayton G. Jr.
Sanders, Jessie F.
Smith, Billie H.
Terrell, William L.
Underwood, Daniel L.
Willis, Archie V.
KIA SINCE 73
Foshee, Jeremy - Philippines
Lankford, Jonathan M. - Iraq
Pierson, John W. - POW
Gentle, Clyde G. - MIA
Wood, William C. Jr. - MIA
This completes the names listed on the Honor Wall at Veterans Memorial Park in Scottsboro. To pick up a copy of the previous four articles in this series please visit the Jackson County Sentinel or visit the Sentinel’s website at www.jcsentinel.com and browse our online news articles.