- Associated Press - Sunday, May 22, 2016

CADIZ, Ky. (AP) - If one were to look on panel 26 E, line 28 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, he would find the name of PFC William Franklin Miller, who died Sept. 6, 1967.

Miller’s sister, Mary Jane Chester Keene, who lives in Jerseyville, Illinois, never knew the truth of her brother’s death until she agreed to come to the recognition ceremony for him held May 14 at Lake Barkley State Resort Park.

“When they called and wanted me to come, I didn’t say yes right away. I gave it a lot of thought,” Keene said. “I didn’t want to drag up a lot of the memories that I buried because a lot of them were very painful.”

Her brother died of a head wound after he and his fellow members of the 3rd Battalion 5th Marines came under machine gun fire during Operation Swift in the Que Son Valley, Vietnam.

The battalion, nicknamed “Darkhorse,” was sent in like the tip of a spear to rescue two Marine companies that had been ambushed by the People’s Army of Vietnam and their Vietcong allies.

Chuck Cummings, who served in Mike Company with Miller, took to a podium before a packed house inside the lodge’s convention center during the 17th annual 3/5 reunion.

Cummings said Miller was a reliable Marine of good moral character and an excellent person. “Everybody could see that he was reliable. He did good things, he didn’t drop things, he learned things quickly.

“In fact, the squad in any other unit was only as good as its weakest link. Well we had no weak links; we had a lot of Frankie Millers.”

Cummings also said that after having met Miller’s family, he could see the reason why.

“All the genes are the same,” he told the audience.

It was 49 years ago on May 14 that Miller, who even as a child wanted to be a Marine, was shot for the first time. He was tagged in the thigh with a tracer round from a sniper as he and others were trying to load their wounded onto a helicopter.

According to letters, Keene said, Miller was sent back into the field at Da Nang either on July 31 or Aug. 1, 1967, following his recuperation on board the hospital ship USS Sanctuary.

Upon Miller’s return to duty, Cummings said, he “looked much better fed than when he left. He had on a few pounds, and he looked happy.”

The company’s time together wasn’t spent completely in war, though, according to Cummings, “There were times where we had a little bit of fun.”

One of those times was where the third platoon was dispatched to guard a construction battalion working a bridge over a large river and not in very dangerous territory.

“One day, somebody made up a dumb idea ‘let’s go swimming,’” Cummings said. Miller and others climbed to the top of the bridge and jumped into the river to do just that.

Another, was when squad members enjoyed a cola or a beer and listened to one Marine’s cassette player until it got dark.

“That was one night where we all felt pretty good. And I was very happy for the guys,” Cummings said. Those were some of Miller’s last hours, as the following morning was the beginning of Operation Swift.

The first and second platoon was heavily engaged by the time reinforcements arrived. “By the time my platoon and our squad reached the knoll, it was very, very busy.”

Then, the North Vietnamese Army began to penetrate their perimeter from the rear, Cummings continued, but they knew they could rely on Miller.

“Frankie was one of those guys, those reliable guys, that we could count on . stopped ‘em cold,” he said. Miller used suppressing fire on that particular side of the perimeter, which remained safe.

Unfortunately, Miller was shot two days later, the night of Sept. 6, 1967, on Hill 48.

“That’s when we lost Frank,” Cummings said. “(It) was like a punch in the stomach.”

Given how good a person Miller was, it just didn’t seem fair, Cummings added.

The day after, his family received the last letter Miller had written to them. In it, he included money and instructions for his father to buy Miller’s sister a bicycle for her birthday.

Keene said she believes her brother must have sensed the end coming down because their sister’s birthday wasn’t until Nov. 6 of that year.

After nearly 49 years, Keene said she is finally at peace about her brother’s death now that she knows what happened. After Miller’s body was brought back home, his family didn’t get see him.

“All we saw was the casket with the flag on top of it,” said Keene, adding that made it more difficult to really believe he was dead. “When you have a family member who dies and you see them laid out, there’s something about it you can accept that their gone.”

Curtis Eidson and Dee Godkins organized the event. Godkins compared the reunion to that of a family and said it also served as the funeral attendees didn’t get to have for their friends.

“This is their chance to be with their brothers, with the goal for the men to heal a little bit every year.”

___

Information from: Kentucky New Era, http://www.kentuckynewera.com

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