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Medal of Honor winner Miller honored with marker

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Retired Army 1st Sgt. Joe Johnson stands alongside a marker that honors Elizabeth City native and Medal of Honor recipient Franklin Douglas Miller. Johnson, who lives in Elizabeth City, was instrumental in researching Miller's life's story. According to Johnson, Miller died at the age of 55 in Florida in 2000.

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By Chris Day
Multimedia Editor

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Medal of Honor recipient and Elizabeth City native Franklin Douglas “Doug” Miller died in 2000. A marker unveiled Friday will forever remember him and the bravery that earned him the nation’s highest military award for valor on the battlefield. 

About 50 people, many of them veterans, gathered Friday morning at the city’s Veterans Memorial Park to celebrate the unveiling of a marker that pays tribute to Miller, who was born in Elizabeth City on Jan. 27, 1945. Twenty-six years later, on June 15, 1971, Miller was presented the Medal of Honor by President Richard Nixon in a ceremony in the White House. 

Miller was a staff sergeant with the U.S. Army’s Green Berets when he was leading a seven-man patrol of U.S. soldiers and Montagnard tribesmen in Laos on Jan. 5, 1970, according to his obituary in The New York Times. A booby trap injured five of his men and brought his patrol under attack by North Vietnamese forces.

Every member of Miller’s patrol was wounded in the subsequent firefight, including Miller, who was shot in the chest. Four of the wounded soldiers under Miller’s command ultimately died in the attack.

It took a substantial amount of work by Elizabeth City resident and retired Army 1st Sgt. Joe Johnson to make the marker a reality.

Johnson, who served 24 years in the Army, spent about four years researching Miller and traveling to Fort Bragg, where the Army dedicated one of its ranges in Miller’s name. Johnson also located some of Miller’s family, including a brother named Walt who lives in Alaska. Walt was unable to get to Elizabeth City for the ceremony, Johnson said.

Eventually, Johnson began working with the city to try to do something to honor Miller. He said he once even told city leaders that he would pay for the memorial marker himself.

“Fortunately the city agreed to fund it,” he said, adding he thought the city did an excellent job in organizing the dedication.

City officials announced in a press release earlier this week that they first decided last fall to dedicate a memorial to Miller at Veterans Park. Dexter O. Harris, director of the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Parks and Recreation Department, oversaw the effort. The marker honoring Miller cost the city $2,405, officials said.

The marker is posted at the foot of Veterans Park close to the sidewalk. It includes a photo of Miller wearing his green beret and dress uniform. High on his left sleeve is a patch containing an arrow head with sword and lightning bolts that identifies him as a member of the Army’s Special Forces.

The marker also includes the award citation that Nixon read aloud during the presentation ceremony. 

Johnson, dressed in his Army uniform, spoke with residents after the ceremony about what he had learned about Miller’s actions on the battlefield. Often referring to Miller by his nickname, Doug, Johnson said that during the attack Miller was shot through the chest. The bullet punctured a lung and exited out his back. Miller used a piece of his rain poncho to cover the wounds to seal the air escaping from his damaged lung, Johnson said.

Miller turned back two attacks by North Vietnamese soldiers, which he managed to do while wounded and firing from an open position. The firefight got so intense an evacuation helicopter was driven away by enemy fire. It wasn’t until later that evening, as he was running out of ammunition, that a relief patrol evacuated Miller and the only two other patrol members to survive the attack.

While Miller was born in Elizabeth City he moved away at early age with his family to New Mexico, according to Johnson. He retired from the Army in 1992 as a command sergeant major and embarked on a career as a benefits counselor for the Veterans Administration. He died June 30, 2000, at age 55 from cancer. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered in New Mexico.

In the Army, a first sergeant is also known respectfully as Top. Johnson never met Miller and their paths never crossed while each served simultaneously in the Army. Looking at the marker one last time before leaving, Johnson reflected on the long road it took to make the marker a reality.

“I think if Doug could see me now, he’d say, ‘Damn, Top, you did a good job,’” Johnson said.

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