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Near Capitol, vet recalled combat

The Largo resident, in Washington to testify about Agent Orange, had to scramble to find transportation home.


© St. Petersburg Times, published September 15, 2001

The Largo resident, in Washington to testify about Agent Orange, had to scramble to find transportation home.

LARGO -- At 10 a.m. Tuesday, Largo resident David C. Miller was in his seat, ready to testify before a joint veterans affairs committee of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives at the Capitol building.

Just then, the panel and guests such as Miller and Harry McDowell, of Fort Myers, were told about the planes that had crashed into the World Trade Center's twin towers and the Pentagon.

"The next thing I knew, Secret Service agents were whisking the members of Congress away in one direction and taking us in underground tunnels so we could get back on the street," said Miller, who is 53. "I was shocked. Some people believed the plane that hit the Pentagon was targeted for the White House or the old Capitol building."

Miller, president of the Pinellas County Veterans Liaison Council and on the legislative council for the national American Legion, had been in Washington with McDowell to testify about budget matters for veterans, including more research on Agent Orange, cancer and other medical items.

Miller, a decorated Vietnam veteran and father of two young sons, suffers from terminal prostate cancer and has two inoperable tumors the size of footballs in his stomach. He has said he believes it is because he was exposed to Agent Orange as a Marine during the Vietnam War. His cancer was first diagnosed in late 1999.

Miller is now on permanent disability from his job at Garden Sanctuary Funeral Home and Cemetery in Seminole.

"I was very nervous when we got out onto the street," said Miller, who spent 13 months as a Marine in Vietnam. "I was walking with my walker, which I have to use more frequently now."

His destination was the Hyatt Regency-Capitol Hill Hotel, a few blocks away. "When we were walking along, we were surprised by a car bomb that went off nearby. There are several things that happened that no one has reported.

"My mind was on the attack. Who wouldn't think of that?" he said. "When something like this happens, you get that smell and taste of combat. Immediately, you recall things you went through."

Since Tuesday, Miller has tried to figure out how to get home to his wife, Kathy, and two sons. "Of course, the planes were grounded, and we couldn't get to the airport to get a rental car."

Finally, he and McDowell were able to rent a car from Hertz, about 20 blocks from the Hyatt Regency. He said it cost them $130 for essentially one day. They started out from Washington, D.C., about 9 a.m. Wednesday and arrived home, weary, but alive, at 1:30 a.m. on Thursday.

"I'm glad I got home for my family, especially with this storm coming," he said referring to Tropical Storm Gabrielle.

As for his own feelings on the devastation of Tuesday, Miller said, "Someone dropped the ball somewhere. How could this happen? Our country is the most highly advanced as far as technology. Why weren't we able to stop this breach of security or shoot down the planes before they hit their targets?"

Saying he fears the terrorists are not done, Miller said he is behind President Bush and the Congress to go to war. "You bet I support him (Bush). We have to do something."

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