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Decorated vet's last wish: Vietnam

The Medal of Honor winner, who helped fellow GIs in war and peace, wanted to go back.

By ERIC STIRGUS

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 2, 2000


In his final days, Franklin Doug Miller lay in a hospital, wishing he could return to Vietnam.

It was there that a fresh-faced Mr. Miller rescued soldiers from downed planes, searched for prisoners of war and did reconnaissance work as a U.S. Army Green Beret in the early 1970s.

It was there in January 1970 that a wounded Mr. Miller led his team out of an ambush in northern Laos, earning the Medal of Honor from President Richard Nixon.

Mr. Miller, 55, of St. Pete Beach, died Friday morning at the VA Medical Center at Bay Pines. Friends said Mr. Miller recently received a diagnosis of pancreatic and liver cancer.

Close friends and those who served with Mr. Miller remembered him as a man driven to help fellow soldiers, whether it be in the jungles of Southeast Asia or in recent years as a veterans benefits counselor.

"He put all of his attention into helping veterans," said Dick Ulrich, a retired Army captain who worked with Mr. Miller at Bay Pines and was in the hospital room during his friend's final moments. "You could never ask for a better friend."

And those friends are coming to the aid of Mr. Miller's three children, Joshua, 18, Danielle, 16, and Melia, 12. He is also survived by a brother, Walter, who lives in Alaska.

Those who knew the soldier of Vietnam, a tough hombre who loved the challenge of his dangerous assignments, were pleasantly surprised by the man of recent days: a doting dad who refused to attend certain events if he could not bring his children. In recent weeks, Mr. Miller concentrated on finding ways to make sure his kids were taken care of when he was gone.

"He was real concerned on the mortgage on his house because he didn't carry mortgage insurance," said Rod Nishimura, a retired Green Beret colonel who lives in Valrico.

Friends have set up a trust fund. Donations can be sent to the Franklin D. Miller Trust, P.O. Box 4088, Bay Pines, FL 33744.

In 1965, Mr. Miller went to Vietnam. There, Mr. Miller, who was in his early 20s, quickly gained the respect of American teenagers sent to war thousands of miles from home. "He was one of the ones I looked to for experience," said retired Staff Sgt. Howard Sugar, 49, who was 17 when he arrived in Vietnam and ran missions with Miller.

Glenn Uemura, who served with Mr. Miller for 18 months as an Army staff sergeant, said Mr. Miller felt a rush when performing dangerous missions and avoiding the enemy.

"He kind of pushed it to the edge," said Uemura, 53, who lives in Grants Pass, Ore.

During his six years in Vietnam, Mr. Miller earned six Purple Hearts, a Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and an Air Medal.

He moved to St. Pete Beach in 1992 and took a job as a veterans benefits officer for the regional VA office in St. Petersburg. He also openly talked about his troubles with post-traumatic stress disorder, encouraging others to seek help. "A lot of people who are too tough or too proud, Frank changed their way of thinking," Sugar said.

Mr. Miller resigned from his job at the hospital last year, friends said.

Last week, Nishimura visited Mr. Miller at the hospital. The two men traded war stories. Mr. Miller was not fearful of death, but he relished one last chance to be back in Vietnam.

"He never wanted to leave Vietnam," Nishimura said. "That was his environment. That was his element. He was a combat veteran."

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