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