Vietnam, some days, we would be pulling
off the helicopters as fast as we could,
so that they
could take off and go back for more.
Some of them
were boys that I knew, who were friends
The bodies were stacked so high; it was
Lee Miller is decorated with a Bronze Star with
V for Valor for his service in Vietnam.
He was drafted into the Army in 1966. On the
train from his small West Virginia town, he rode
with other local boys on their way to boot camp.
The others were all white and straight, he was
black and gay. As the train traveled
through the night, leaving the ridges and
hollers of home behind, they made a pact; they
would stick together and protect each other in
the Army. Black, white, straight, and gay,
Nazarene and Baptist, what mattered to them was
that no one was going to mess with one of their
own. They had grown up together and gone
to school together, and now, together they were
headed straight into the heart of hell -Vietnam.
They would be loyal to each other. That
was more than 40 years ago; imagine!
was one of 9 children in a traditional
fundamentalist family. Love,
faith, and self respect were the genuine common
community values in the small town West Virginia
world that he grew up in. Somehow he'd
realized he was gay and an early age and
suffered through the fears, harassment, and
isolation; and yet grew up self confident and
without shame. He participated in ROTC at
West Virginia State College, which had
transitioned from being all black to integration
in the year he began there, 1964.
many who were drafted in those days, he simply
checked "No" on the induction form
where it asked if he was a homosexual. And
as with all others who did so knowing that they
were gay, that made him a patriotic volunteer;
he didn't have to go. Due to his
experience in ROTC, he became the guideon in
boot camp. He went on to become a corpsman,
which led to a lifetime career in hospital and
nursing home work.
Vietnam, he was not out to others, preferring to
focus on his job of caring for others.
There was all sorts of entertainment, for
relieving combat stress, such as impromptu drag
shows in which both straight and gay soldiers
participated. But, Corpsman Miller worked
the medical wards day and night, volunteering
for extra duty to meet the constant need of
tending to the wounded.
May 29th, 1968, during the second Tet Offensive,
his base was nearly overrun as he and others
moved all the patients to secure bunkers as
artillery flew all around them. At times
like that, one does not think about the medal
that may follow, one thinks only about saving
every single soldier no matter what. The
courage comes from one's upbringing as an
American; it has everything to do with integrity
and nothing to do with whether one is gay or
straight, white or black. And so along
with four others he earned his Bronze Star and V
for valor on that day of dire battle.
every midnight, at times, they were mortared and
at those times everyone had to give up sleep and
function at their highest level of bravery and
ability. As a corpsman, he said,
"there were some days, we would be pulling
bodies off the helicopters as fast as we could,
so that they could take off and go back for
more. Some of them were boys that I knew, who
were friends of mine. The bodies were stacked so
high; it was horrible."
am no longer able to go out on the fourth of
July or News Year's Eve because the fireworks
remind me of incoming mortar rounds, enemy fire,
from 40 years ago." He told me.
his war service, veteran Miller went back to
school in West Virginia, and later in Wisconsin,
and then moved to Long Beach, California where
he has lived most of his life now. He has
worked as an orderly, in social services, and in
convalescence homes. He is now himself
disabled with arthritis.
a gay man, he did not join the traditional
veterans groups which have been unwelcoming.
And so it was only in recent years that he
became aware that his long ago service in
Vietnam entitled him to disability benefits and
VA medical treatment.
to look back to the time he spent at war
in service to his nation, Lige Miller
said he didn't regret it; he would do it
all again, even knowing what he does now
all these years later.
local Long Beach newspaper recently
wrote about him as a gay veteran.
His VA doctor gave him a hug of
affirmation. We have come a long
way since he served as a young man, but
some things have not changed;
basic human dignity remains the same in
the way we interact, and yet our
military's policy regarding brave gay
and lesbian young men and women willing
and able to serve their nation remains
unchanged to this day in its stance that
they are not good enough to serve.
Lige Miller's medal says otherwise.