November 9, 2017
By David Nordby
The Brillion News
COMBINED LOCKS – Retired Brigadier General Gerald L. Miller served the country in about as many ways as possible from 1964 until 1994. He started out as an infantry platoon commander, served in action, was a public affairs officer, a naval aviator, a flight instructor and a Judge Advocate to the Commandment of the Marine Corps as the Director of the Judge Advocate Division. His decorations include a Purple Heart and a Distinguished Service Medal. The mental and physical drive it took to be so multifaceted can be traced back to his roots in Brillion.
“There was always a lot of older people to look up to,” Miller says of growing up in Brillion. “Good, hardworking people.”
The 1960 Brillion High School graduate grew up on a farm a mile and a half north of the city. He was the oldest of eight children, including six brothers. Working was different back then – it started at an early age. By 14, Miller was working on a neighbor’s farm and later, into the city’s businesses.
“I was lucky that I was able to work at the Brillion Iron Works and at Ariens. They were both very good about providing jobs to kids who wanted them,” Miller said.
He looked up to both of his parents, he says. Back then, his dad worked at Ariens, the BIW, two other places and had his own small farm.
“The day never ended until eight o’clock at night,” Miller says, while also adding he sometimes misses those days. “It was fun growing up, in retrospect, on the farm.”
College wasn’t as emphasized as it is now. But instead of working like he probably would have, Miller received a Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) scholarship. He attended Marquette University after hearing about the scholarship from a friend and interviewing for it in Chicago.
“I probably would have continued working,” he says. The program gave students a $100 a month stipend, but Miller found part-time work on the side. He also met his wife, Lynn, who is originally from Lihue, Hawaii. He admits that sometimes he felt less responsibility at college than he did back home working throughout high school.
“We say, ‘Those were the best four years of our life. We didn’t really have any responsibility except to ourselves,’” Miller said. “It was a good collegiate environment.”
During the summer of military training, Miller says he went through “eye opening” experiences of what life serving was like.
“We were locked in and on our way and that’s how we were able to get our college degree,” he said.
“You’re living under some pretty terrible conditions and in addition to that, someone is trying to kill you,” Miller says, describing settings in a combat zone.
He served in two tours in Vietnam and the concept of someone trying to kill him was all too real for many men, including Miller.
“I had a million-dollar wound, as they call it,” he says describing the story behind his Purple Heart. It’s one of many decorations and medals he received, but the one that means the most to him after surviving a sniper shot through his chest.
It happened in 1965, during his first tour on the infantry during a gun fight in a cemetery at night with snipers shooting from the trees. He was medevac’d to San Diego after spending a week in a Philippines hospital.
“That’s the one that has the most meaning for me because there are a lot of guys that get Purple Hearts posthumously, so I was lucky to survive.” The conditions of war, like waking up to sirens and jumping under his bed in a flap jacket for safety, especially hit home at the end of his second tour.
“They pulled out of Vietnam near the end of my tour … I felt so relieved,” Miller says. “I didn’t appreciate that I would feel so relieved just that I could let my guard down. I didn’t have to be concerned about whether something was going to happen or if there was going to be a rocket attack when I was sleeping at night … I didn’t really expect it, but I just felt so relieved to be out of the combat zone.”
Please see the complete feature in the November 9, 2017 edition of The Brillion News.