Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
FAIRFIELD – Fairfield resident John Miller had the pleasure of participating in an Honor Flight last week during which he spent a day touring memorials and monuments in the nation’s capital.
Miller, a former Air Force officer who served in Thailand during the Vietnam War, made the trip to Washington, D.C., with about 120 other veterans as part of an Eastern Iowa Honor Flight. The program provides free airfare, tours and food to veterans in Eastern Iowa so they can visit Washington, D.C.’s, war memorials and other historic sites.
Miller applied for the program three years ago, but partly because of such high demand, and partly because some flights were canceled due to the pandemic, he had to wait until this year to go. The experience was worth the wait.
“This was profound, to be there with the other veterans and the tour guides who knew the monuments backwards and forwards,” Miller said.
The veterans visited all the major war memorials – World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
At the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, all the names of the American soldiers who died are engraved on the wall. Visitors to the wall have made it a custom to place a piece of paper over the engraved names and rub a pencil over the engraving to creating an etching, a way of taking a piece of the wall home with them.
Miller etched three names on the wall, two were officers he held in high regard and the third was a fighter pilot named Lance Sijan, who received the Medal of Honor and who was in Miller’s Air Force squadron.
A few of the highlights for Miller from the tour were visiting the Air Force Memorial, since that was his branch of the military, and visiting Arlington National Cemetery, where the veterans observed the changing of the guard ceremony.
“The whole experience left me feeling almost as though I'd received the Bronze Star Medal that my (Officer in Charge) had promised me years ago,” Miller said.
During his time as an Air Force officer, Miller was in charge of teaching a course on race relations. It was a program initiated by the Department of Defense in the early 1970s in response to violence on military bases.
The program sought to educate all military personnel on how people of color had been mistreated, on the history of prejudice and of civil rights.
Miller’s Officer in Charge was so impressed with the job he did on the program that he recommended Miller receive a Bronze Star.
The officer asked Miller to fill out the paperwork explaining why he received the medal, but Miller said it felt wrong to “toot my own horn” and thus turned down the opportunity. In retrospect, Miller said he wishes he had gone through with the application, but his participation in the Honor Flight reminded him that his work and the sacrifice of other veterans are appreciated.
The veterans on the trip received certificates called “Discharge from Duty” honoring them for their “one day of duty” on the Honor Flight. People at the airport clapped when they saw the veterans board the plane. On the way home, the Honor Flight organizers did a “mail call” where every veteran got a personalized folder full of letters. About 20 letters came from grade school children in Iowa thanking the veterans for their service.
When Miller opened his folder, he was surprised to see many members of his family had written letters to him to read on the flight home. He had no idea they had done this. There were letters from his wife, daughter, son, sister and brother.
“When I served, I can’t ever remember receiving letters as touching as these,” Miller said.
Miller will share slides from his Honor Flight during a public presentation at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 8 at the Fairfield Community Center.