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Mud, blood, bronze and valor: Vietnam vet receives medal after 40-plus years

Posted: February 21, 2010 10:38 p.m.
Updated: February 22, 2010 4:55 a.m.
Retired U.S. Army Spc. Jim Miller was awarded the Bronze Star for valor Wednesday, for his role in rescuing several injured soldiers during a battle in Vietnam on June 19, 1967. Retired U.S. Army Spc. Jim Miller was awarded the Bronze Star for valor Wednesday, for his role in rescuing several injured soldiers during a battle in Vietnam on June 19, 1967.
Retired U.S. Army Spc. Jim Miller was awarded the Bronze Star for valor Wednesday, for his role in rescuing several injured soldiers during a battle in Vietnam on June 19, 1967.
Vietnam war veterans Jim Miller and Bob Good share a laugh Wednesday after Miller was presented with the Bronze Star for valor. Vietnam war veterans Jim Miller and Bob Good share a laugh Wednesday after Miller was presented with the Bronze Star for valor.
Vietnam war veterans Jim Miller and Bob Good share a laugh Wednesday after Miller was presented with the Bronze Star for valor.
Congressman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, left, presents Vietnam War veteran Jim Miller with the Bronze Star for valor Wednesday at Veterans Historical Plaza in Newhall. Miller was presented with the Bronze Star more than 40 years after rescuing several injured soldiers during a battle in Vietnam, and two years after his fellow veteran Bob Good started working on a recommendation for the medal. Congressman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, left, presents Vietnam War veteran Jim Miller with the Bronze Star for valor Wednesday at Veterans Historical Plaza in Newhall. Miller was presented with the Bronze Star more than 40 years after rescuing several injured soldiers during a battle in Vietnam, and two years after his fellow veteran Bob Good started working on a recommendation for the medal.
Congressman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, left, presents Vietnam War veteran Jim Miller with the Bronze Star for valor Wednesday at Veterans Historical Plaza in Newhall. Miller was presented with the Bronze Star more than 40 years after rescuing several injured soldiers during a battle in Vietnam, and two years after his fellow veteran Bob Good started working on a recommendation for the medal.
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It was June 19, 1967. Army specialists Bob Good and Jim Miller were part of the 9th Infantry’s Mobile Riverine task force, patrolling southern Vietnam’s hot, humid Mekong Delta. Then the call squawked over the radio.

Down the river, Alpha Company was under attack. They could hear a captain pleading for help. They could hear the machine-gun fire. They could hear screams and cries.

The group of young soldiers raced down the river, then jumped out of their boats to hustle through the rice paddies and aid their fellow soldiers in trading shots with Viet Cong troops hunkered down in bunkers.

Artillery blasts rocked the battlefield. Seven American helicopters were shot down.

“It was like a Hollywood battlefield,” Good recalled.

By the end of June 20, almost 50 Americans would lay dead in the mud.

When night fell on the 19th, Good, Miller and two other soldiers volunteered to crawl out onto the muddy battlefield and bring back the wounded soldiers they could hear groaning in pain.

Each man laid aside his rifle, grabbed a few hand grenades and crawled on their bellies through the mud, dragging five soldiers back to safety.

“In a war environment ... you kind of go into an animal defense mode. You don’t think about your own life,” Good said.

In the morning, given the order to attack the Viet Cong bunkers, they found their enemy had moved out during the night.

American soldiers lay dead on the battlefield. Those who survived body-bagged their fallen brothers-in-arms. Then they got back on their boats. Another day in their tour of duty.

“We didn’t care about awards,” Good said. “All we cared about was coming home alive.”

At the time, Good was awarded the Bronze Star for valor. Miller never was.

“That bothered me at the time. What he did was a tremendous act of valor,” said Good, a Stevenson Ranch resident. “This has been bothering me for a long time.”

On Wednesday, more than 40 years after Miller volunteered to put himself in harm’s way, he was awarded the Bronze Star for valor.

During a brief ceremony last Wednesday at the Veteran’s Historical Park in Newhall, the Thousand Oaks resident was presented his medal by Congressman Howard P “Buck” McKeon (R-Santa Clarita).

The presentation was the culmination of Good’s efforts over the past two years.

In 2007, Good finally decided to do something and approached McKeon’s office for help in securing a medal.

It was an arduous process, he said, tracking down other soldiers who’d been there to provide eyewitness testimony in writing Miller’s recommendation.

“It means a lot,” Miller said. “More that it meant enough to Bob to go through all this trouble. I probably wouldn’t have appreciated it 42 years ago.

“I was pretty bitter coming home. We lost some good men. ... It’s like losing part of your family.”

It was also a different climate to which the troops returned from Vietnam. Good – who was drafted along with Miller in 1966 — said upon returning to America they were greeted by people spitting at them, yelling at them and calling them baby killers.

After their return from Vietnam, Good and Miller each spent more than 30 years with the Los Angeles Police Department.

As golden, late-afternoon sunlight bathed the Veterans park, McKeon praised the sacrifice of both men, gripping Miller’s hand and presenting him with a small box containing the bronze medal, its ribbon bearing a “V” for valor. Miller smiled and embraced Good.

After more than four decades, after all he saw in Vietnam and as an L.A. police officer working robbery and homicide cases, Miller wrote: “What transpired on the day of June 19, (1967) is etched in my memory.

“The memories are as vivid as if they occurred yesterday.”

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