Jim Miller, a Hannibal resident since 1980 and a U.S. Army veteran of the Vietnam War, recently returned from the nation’s capitol after having a placed a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier — an honor reserved for few people after going through a multi-step application process.
Surrounded by dozens of military veterans attending the Honor Flight, Hannibal resident Jim Miller approached the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to reverently lay a wreath at one of the most iconic tombs in the country.
As he did so, with the area in silent reflection, he said he thought about his comrades who died serving their country. He thought particularly about the 31 men he served with in Vietnam whose names are now inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. to honor military members killed in the 1960s and ‘70s-era conflict. He thought about his friend and roommate during Officer Candidate School, 1st Lt. Donald Miller, who died after serving two months on the ground in Vietnam in 1969.
“I was simply thinking about them in my mind and thinking hopefully this will give you the honor you’re due,” Miller said.
Miller, a Hannibal resident since 1980 and a U.S. Army veteran of the Vietnam War, recently returned from the nation’s capitol after having a placed a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier — an honor reserved for few people after going through a multi-step application process.
Miller and his wife travel to the Washington area a few times per year. They have a son who lives in northern Virginia.
He knew he would again travel to the area, and decided to apply for the opportunity to place a wreath at the tomb in Arlington National Cemetery. The application process has multiple steps — not just anyone is approved for the highly reverent ceremony. After distinguishing himself as an Army veteran and an American Legion member, he was approved to apply for the ceremony. Just days later, he received approval — something that can sometimes take months.
“It was really quite surprising I got the approval as quick as I did,” he remembered.
Miller asked Griffen’s Flowers in Hannibal to produce a wreath — a beautiful circle of pristine white carnations, red roses and blue accents. Across the wreath were blue ribbons with the phrase “In Memory Of Our Fallen Comrades.”
The day of the ceremony, Sept. 30, Miller and his wife Teresa observed the changing of the guard before approaching the wreath, then upright on a stand. Miller and the commander of the relief stepped forward and moved the wreath closer to the tomb. The scene was photographed by a volunteer couple, who held Miller’s cellphone, which he was not allowed to bring onto the hallowed ground.
“If you’ve never been there, I really suggest you go there. It’s really something to see,” Miller said.
Miller and the commander saluted the tomb, newly adorned by the white wreath.
As Miller and his wife left the amphitheater and the veterans attending the Honor Flight departed from the reverent ceremony, Miller said a man approached.
“He came up to me all of sudden and said ‘Sir, can I shake your hand?’ And I said, ‘Well, you certainly can.’ So, we shook hands,” he remembered. “He said, ‘I’m from Vietnam. And I want to thank you for your service and what you did for my country which allowed me to come to America and be free and live in this country.’”
The man, whose named Miller didn’t fully get, asked for a photo with him.
“It was a perfect ending to the day,” Miller said. “To have an individual from that country thank me for what I did was a perfect ending to the whole thing.”
Miller, during a 20-year career in the Army, served two tours of duty in Vietnam — one in 1965-1966 and again in 1969-1970. In the second tour, he flew helicopters in support of infantry units. Following his retirement from the military, he relocated to Hannibal and worked for the U.S. Postal Service.
Miller said it was an honor to participate in the wreath-laying ceremony.
“Every chance I get, I like to pay tribute to the veterans,” he said.
For Miller, that includes the 1,442 Missouri soldiers killed in Vietnam, the eight soldiers from Hannibal, down to his friends Donald Miller, whose grave he visited for the first time in Virginia Beach following the wreath ceremony.
Reach editor Eric Dundon at firstname.lastname@example.org .