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A Positive Frequency - Vietnam Era radio operator honored 50 years after heroic efforts

David Miller prepares for a mission aboard a C-47 Skytrain in this undated photo from his time in Vietnam. A radio intercept operator, Miller was recognized for his actions there more than 50 years after his actions saved the lives of U.S. troops on the ground. (Courtesy photo)

David Miller prepares for a mission aboard a C-47 Skytrain in this undated photo from his time in Vietnam. A radio intercept operator, Miller was recognized for his actions there more than 50 years after his actions saved the lives of U.S. troops on the ground. (Courtesy photo)

David Miller smiles as he gives a speech after being presented the Distinguished Flying Cross Award at Nacogdoches, Texas, Oct. 13, 2018. This presentation came 50 years after he earned the award for his actions during a tour in the Vietnam War. During his time there, he intercepted enemy radio communications that saved countless American lives. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Cody Burt/Released)

David Miller smiles as he gives a speech after being presented the Distinguished Flying Cross Award at Nacogdoches, Texas, Oct. 13, 2018. This presentation came 50 years after he earned the award for his actions during a tour in the Vietnam War. During his time there, he intercepted enemy radio communications that saved countless American lives. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Cody Burt/Released)

David Miller talks with friends at a ceremony where he was presented the Distinguished Flying Cross Award at Nacogdoches, Texas, Oct. 13, 2018. Miller earned the award for his actions during a tour in the Vietnam War. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Cody Burt/Released)

David Miller talks with friends at a ceremony where he was presented the Distinguished Flying Cross Award at Nacogdoches, Texas, Oct. 13, 2018. Miller earned the award for his actions during a tour in the Vietnam War. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Cody Burt/Released)

David Miller salutes U.S. Air Force Col. Ryan D. Blake, 412th Test Pilot School commandant, Edwards AFB California, Oct. 13, 2018. Miller received the Distinguished Flying Cross nearly 50 years after earning the medal during his tour in Vietnam. Blake is a longtime family friend of the Millers having grown up with Miller’s children.(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Cody Burt)

David Miller salutes U.S. Air Force Col. Ryan D. Blake, 412th Test Pilot School commandant, Edwards AFB California, Oct. 13, 2018. Miller received the Distinguished Flying Cross nearly 50 years after earning the medal during his tour in Vietnam. Blake is a longtime family friend of the Millers having grown up with Miller’s children.(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Cody Burt)

BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. --

When David Miller returned to the United States after flying 125 combat missions in Vietnam, he didn’t receive a warm welcome home. His reception included being denied service in a restaurant and being spat upon in an airport.  

The only positive recognition Miller received for his service came in a formal letter stating he had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.  However, no medal came with it nor was a ceremony held to honor his achievement.

Almost five decades later, Miller was finally formally honored for receiving the DFC in a ceremony on Oct. 13 at Harvest Point Church in Nacogdoches, Texas.

“Vietnam was a tough place, it was a tough time to serve and it was a tough time to come home,” said Miller.  “I am just so grateful that my fellow veterans and friends could be here today to share in this honor.”  

 Miller was a radio intercept operator in Vietnam and earned the DFC for his actions during a reconnaissance mission on November 27, 1968.  On that day, while returning to his base from another mission, he began picking up North Vietnamese ground radio transmissions. Although his unarmed C-47 Skytrain was low on fuel, Miller convinced the pilot to turn the aircraft around so he could relay the information to U.S. troops in the area.

The enemy soon spotted the World War II era plane and began pelting it with small arms fire.  Still, Miller refused to leave the area until he had successfully provided friendly troops with the intelligence data they needed to effectively engage the enemy forces.  The information Miller provided was used to call in airstrikes on the enemy soldiers, turning the tide of the battle in favor of the U.S. troops.  Miller’s C-47 finally left the area, arriving back at base with only minutes of fuel left to spare. 

Following Vietnam, Miller had a calling to become a minister. He received his theological degree from Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth Texas where he met Richard Blake. The Blake and Miller became lifelong friends, remaining close to this day.

Col. Ryan Blake, commandant of the 412th Test Pilot School and the son of Richard Blake, remembered David Miller from his youth.

“I grew up around the Miller family and I always had a vague notion that David had been in Vietnam, but that is all,” he said.  “I knew him simply as Pastor Miller and the dad of my friends.”

It wasn’t until he  learned of Miller’s story, that Blake fully realized the impact of his heroics on that November day in Vietnam.

“There are probably hundreds, if not thousands of Americans still alive today because of what Sgt. Miller did that day,” said Blake. “If he had not told the pilot to turn around, in spite of his primary mission being complete and despite the lack of fuel, those troops may not have lived.”

Miller’s wife, Paula, spearheaded efforts to honor him with a proper ceremony.  Although she tried to keep it a surprise, well-wishers began congratulating him via social media and through text messages the evening before the event took place.  Still, he had no idea some who she had arranged to present the DFC to him.

 “My wife kept this event a secret until the night before it was going to happen, “said Mr. Miller. “As I stood in the vestibule of the church I thought to myself the only thing that would make this better would be if Richard was here and if Ryan could present the medal to me. That’s when he and his father walked up.”

Although Miller’s efforts took center stage at the ceremony, all Vietnam veterans in attendance received a lapel pin as part of the Vietnam War Commemoration program, first authorized by Congress in 2008 to recognize, thank and honor United States military veterans who served during the Vietnam War.

 For many, the pin represents a special honor.

“I have had a number of medals pinned to me in my day and this is certainly the highest ranking I have received for any pinning ceremony. Even though it might just be a lapel pin to a lot of people, this is like a medal to the Vietnam veteran,” said Retired Air Force Colonel Michael Brazelton, a four-time Silver Star recipient and former prisoner of war during the conflict.

Members of the 307th Bomb Wing were on hand at the ceremony to help honor Miller and his fellow Vietnam veterans. The wing is an official partner of the Vietnam War Commemoration program, a program authorized by Congress in 2007.

The Vietnam War Commemoration program was included in the National Defense Act and signed into law in 2008 by President George W. Bush.  It was inaugurated at the Vietnam Memorial by President Barack Obama in 2012.