Wednesday, May 04, 2011

US Navy SEALs, Osama bin Laden, and my Stepfather, Charles Miller

US Navy SEALs Insignia
(Image from Wikipedia)

When my stepfather Charles Miller died several years ago, I learned that he had been a Navy SEAL (United States Navy SEa, Air and Land), or perhaps one of the US Navy's early special forces that later became part of the SEALs, possibly the Naval Combat Demolition Unit (N.C.D.U.), but I'm not sure because I don't know precisely when he served in the military, though probably the 1950s since he was around 35 when he met my mother in the latter 1960s.

I recall a picnic that he and my mom had with me and some of my brothers on South Fork River at a deep swimming hole under a steel bridge on the Moko Road north of my hometown Salem (Arkansas). Since we were all wearing swimming trunks, I couldn't help but notice that Charles had huge muscles and a big chest and could stay under water for a long time, which was pretty impressive for me since I was a skinny little kid of about 12 who couldn't swim worth a lick.

I have to acknowledge that he and I didn't get along so well at the time. I was soon getting to the age when one conforms to the expectations of one's rebellious peers, which meant letting one's hair grow wild back then, and Charles was the sort of man who'd get out his electric razor and cut my hair down to a crewcut. I didn't like that.

We got along better after I left for college because I was gone most of the time, off on my own in Texas, supporting myself, and he appreciated that sort of thing in a man. By the time that I married Sun-Ae, Charles and I had grown close enough to actually carry on a conversation that didn't involve him growling some order at me and me grudgingly following orders. But all joking aside, I can say that we had grown to understand each other better and could actually talk to each other.

Anyway, he came to my wedding and was utterly charming. He appeared to like Sun-Ae, and he told us how much he had enjoyed our unconventional wedding ceremony -- Sun-Ae wore a tight black dress in which she looked absolutely stunning, the abandoned Ozark church had a large hole in the floor, and we had written our own vows to reflect our two different traditions -- and Charles remarked as he shook our hands, "I'll remember this!" From him, that was high praise.

Not long after 9/11, I was speaking to a US naval officer whom I met in Osan, South Korea, and we were talking about the Special Forces that were already in Afghanistan. At the time, they were advising the Northern Alliance of Turkic-speaking tribes opposed to the Taliban and were fighting alongside them in battle, even riding horses in midnight charges across the dry Afghan plains -- if I recall correctly. I mused that such men must have special qualities to want to be in Special Forces since they'd often be operating behind enemy lines in small groups under intense pressure.

"What kind of a man does it take?" I wondered aloud.

The naval officer agreed that the men who tried out for the special forces were indeed special -- they had to be tough, strong, intelligent, able to endure pressure, and willing to put their lives in danger without losing focus on their mission. Or something like that, for I don't recall his exact words.

Some time after that, I don't know exactly when, my brother John -- who's a Baptist minister and who conducted our stepfather's funeral -- mentioned to me that Charles had been a Navy SEAL. I thought of Charles yesterday when I learned that the Special Forces team sent to get Osama bin Laden had been SEALs.

And I kind of had an answer to my question. What sort of man? One like Charles Miller, I guess. A smart, athletic man of toughness and courage who won't shirk hard work and who'll stay focused on a task till he gets the job done even under intense pressure. That sort of man.

I imagine bin Laden wouldn't have lasted long in a confrontation with Charles, and yesterday's events support my hunch . . .

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At 7:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I only met Charles Miller on a few occasions.
I know my mother Nora & stepfather Archie liked him, and often called him to tend to vaccinating their livestock.
I was there once when we rounded up the cattle into the barn and Charles had a hypodermic kit that held enough worm/tick/lice medication for 10 head before reloading. It had a dial to set the dosage and a squeeze trigger, so it was a really fast operation. He carried a large colored crayon to mark each animal so they would all get their shot, and none would get double. He just walked into the herd, and would reach over the one next to him and shoot the one on the other side. He said that way he never got kicked.
I think he was the only man in the area who would come to the farm to treat livestock.
He was smart, and a nice guy.


At 7:15 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yeah, he was a nice guy, and I needed years to see that.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:44 AM, Anonymous Scott A. said...

There are a few good biography books out about Seals and Delta Force you might like reading. Through the story of how each of the men decided to join and the training they went through to make the team and then the kind of work and training they continued, you get a good picture of who they are and what they have been through.

I can probably email you one or two of them if you download a PC version of Kindle Reader.


Warrior Soul. About a Seal in the 80s and early 90s.

Seal Team Six. A member in the 1990s.

Lone Survivor. About a member of the Seal team in Afghanistan that got wiped out and how he was protected by a local village.

Inside Delta Force. From a founding member.

At 10:37 AM, Anonymous Scott A. said...

Inside Delta Force had a very interesting part about Vietnam POWs held in Laos.

I remember the Chuck Norris films, and one of the Rambo movies, and I remember some vets who put the flags up. And I am a patriotic person friendly to the military. But, I always thought it was Hollywood make-believe.

According to this guy who was part of the original Delta Force, it wasn't. He covers the material quickly, but he says there were POWs held by Vietnam in Laos, and that Delta Force had trained two or three times to rescue them, but each time, the missions were scrubbed due to cheap political tricks by someone/some politician in the government. Highly interesting.

If true, I wonder if documents about it will ever come out in my life time? (I'm 40 and I doubt it.)

At 10:55 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Scott. I'll keep those books in mind. I don't have a Kindle, but I'll bet that I can find things on the internet.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:37 PM, Anonymous Scott A. said...

You can download a Kindle reader for PC for free.

At 12:43 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I didn't realize that, but I think I'll hold of on a pc kindle since that would lack the covenience of the book form for carrying about.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just to let you know Jeff, there was a woman (I'm pretty sure in your class - named Pam C) from around Sturkie.

Given the time-frame you've given, I'm pretty sure Mr. Miller would've been a UDT-SEAL.

At 8:04 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yeah, I remember Pam. She was in my class. We were friends but didn't hang out much together.

But didn't the SEALs begin in 1961? Or was it earlier?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:46 PM, Blogger Sabio Lantz said...

On an ironic fun note:
When I worked at the Navy Hospital in Bethesda, MD, the Navy Seals were notorious for fainting when they had their blood drawn!

At 9:19 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Sabio, that is ironic . . . but they at least didn't faint in the bloody shoot-out with Bin Laden.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe that Charles was in the Navy's special force unit commonly called the Frogmen. He was an exceptional man and it also took me into my adulthood to realize what kind of man he was. He mellowed alot the older he got and was actually pleasant to be around.


At 10:46 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Tim, for the clarification. I've checked the internet and found the site for the National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum, which mentions the Frogmen.

The older I get, the more my views change on the things that I've done and the people whom I've known.

Jeffery Hodges

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