Rich Miller doesn’t do anything halfway.
After serving four years in the Navy during Vietnam, he re-enlisted in the Navy Reserves from 1983-2007, serving during Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1990 and Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. Since 2010, he has commanded Waverly American Legion Post 176.
“There’s a culture in the military to continue that same service to the veteran community at large and — what the Legion stands for — service to community, God and country,” Rich said.
While in the service, Miller had met many interesting people.
“It’s good mentally to share your experiences with someone else who knows what you’re talking about,” he said. “Otherwise, you hold that in. … You’re in situations in the military where there is extreme camaraderie with people you’re serving with, and — suddenly you’re back in the civilian world. It’s important to be able to commiserate with people who have gone through the same thing.”
One of the hardest things he had to do is to be a part of the ritual of burying veterans.
“Probably the hardest thing to do is perform military honors for people you’ve been in this organization with,” Rich said, noting the passage of Burton Boevers over the summer, for example. “It’s very emotional, but it’s the best gift to someone you think highly of, and people in the Legion I’ve met, I have immeasurable respect for them.”
Miller enlisted in the Navy right out of high school.
Like high schools all over the country in the late 1960s, his school in Jesup was abuzz about the Vietnam draft.
“Everybody talked about it, knew of the possibility,” Rich said. “I enlisted before I got drafted. My draft number was 43, so I knew I was going.”
Rich was 19 when he joined in 1970 near the end of the Vietnam War. He trained as a combat field medic for the Marines. The Department of the Navy oversees the Marine Corps, and he used that training during his service including a tour as one of three Navy corpsman on a ship off the coast of Southeast Asia. There were no doctors, and he performed suturing, immunizations, general medical care, first aid, sanitation and pest control. He was honorably discharged in 1974.
Meanwhile, his future wife, Janell Klammer, a Dunkerton graduate, considered the Navy but decided to go to college instead. She met Rich at John Deere in Waterloo.
They married on May 21, 1977. After they began having children, Janell chose to stay at home.
In the early 1980s, they became aware the Navy reserves were accepting veterans back, and in 1983, Rich joined the Navy reserves.
“(Janell) encouraged me to go back in,” he said. “She’s been a rock for me.”
There hadn’t been a major recall since World War II. Janell again considered joining the Navy reserves. However, she chose not to after the recruiter asked her if she would be willing to leave her children in the care of others in the event both she and Rich were recalled.
Rich was deployed for two year-long tours, both in North Carolina, supporting operations Desert Storm and Shield in 1990 at Camp Lejeune and Iraqi Freedom in 2003 at New River Marine Air Station.
When the call came in 1990, they were raising three children were under the age of 7: Eric, Kyle and Amanda.
After Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, President George H.W. Bush authorized a recall of several thousand reserves. Rich received the call a few days after the president’s announcement.
At the time, it had been so long since a recall that the private sector was unprepared to deal with it.
Everything in their life changed in one phone call. Together, they determined how to explain the changes to their young children.
“We decided we were just going to treat it as a big adventure, not contemplate anything,” Janell said.
In 1993, wanting to return to their rural roots after nearly two decades in Waterloo, the couple moved to an acreage southwest of Waverly, where they knew the schools were good.
Having joined the American Legion in Waterloo a year earlier, the couple transferred membership to the Waverly American Legion and Auxiliary in 1993 where they gradually got involved.
In 2003, they had a week to prepare for Operation Iraqi Freedom. With the children grown, there was no way to gloss over the risk. For Janell, the empty house was the hard part.
“We grew stronger in our marriage because of it,” Rich said.
“Faith played a big part in both of those recalls,” Janell said. “Trusting that God was in charge and would give us whatever we needed to get through what we had to go through. He did, and help showed up when we least expected it.”
“It’s rewarding knowing you serve with people willing to give up their life for their country and each other,” said Rich. “It’s humbling in a leadership role to know with people in your charge, your decisions could be life or death. You shouldn’t take anything for granted.
“I was the chief in charge of a battalion aid station, and was to be part of a Marine unit assigned to cross into Iraq from Turkey during the 2003 invasion.
“However, Turkey wouldn’t let us cross the border, so we became a rapid-deployment team on 24-hour call to go anywhere at a moment’s notice.”
Rich took command of Post 176 in 2010. He retired from John Deere in 2013.
“After military service, you come from a very unique group,” Rich said. “It’s hard for others to understand unless they’ve been there. The Waverly Area Veterans Post is a place vets can come together and understand one another whether 90 or 22, no matter what the generational differences are.
“When you come home from the service, you’re like a fish thrown into the ocean looking for reference,” Rich said. As veterans are reshaping their identity, and the American Legion and other vets groups provide “someplace you can go to talk to people [and] they understand, they’ve been through it,” he said.
Veterans are becoming fewer. Over 16 million served in World War II, 5.7 million during Korea, 8.7 million during Vietnam, 2.3 million during Desert Shield and Desert Storm and some 1.9 million had served in Afghanistan and Iraq from 2001-2010, and are still serving today.
Following the Vietnam War, nearly three-fourths of U.S. lawmakers had served in the military. However, the 116th Congress began in fall 2018 with less than 18 percent having served.
Today, enlisting is voluntary, despite the in-case maintenance of the selective service rolls.
“Kudos to those who step forward,” Rich said.
One draw of veterans groups is to ensure their own are included in current policy.
Miller referenced the various accomplishments of the American Legion, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. One of the most significant ones was the GI Bill of Rights, which has sent over 8 million veterans to school since 1944 and allowed for home loans through what is now the Department of Veterans Affairs issuing its 20 millionth home loan in 2012. Another is a $50,000 grant it proffered to the then fledgling American Heart Association in 1946 for study, prevention and treatment of rheumatic heart disease; also a sponsorship of an independent study of the effects of Agent Orange on Vietnam veterans (1983-1989); a taskforce to assist Persian Gulf vets as well as contributing to scholarships, such as the George and Kathleen Beebe Scholarship that was established locally.
“Many young people credit past accomplishments to one political party or another,” Janell said. “In reality veterans groups proposed and supported a lot of those issues that have been credited to politics.”
As for the children, Eric now lives in Denver, Colo.; Kyle is in Tempe, Ariz.; and Amanda and husband Nick Guttau live in Center Point with three girls.