'Reflections' offers a warrior's account of Vietnam combat

THE BALTIMORE EVENING SUN

"Reflections of a Warrior," by Franklin D. Miller with Elwood J.C. Kureth, 205 pages, Presidio Press, Novato, Calif., $19.95. DESERT STORM troopers were no doubt all fine and brave and heroic but none could have been quite the warrior that Sergeant Major Franklin D. Miller was. Sergeant Miller served six years in Vietnam -- six tours of duty. He was awarded six Purple Hearts, two Bronze Stars with V for valor, an Air Medal, the Silver Star and the Medal of Honor.

Miller recounts some tales from the Vietnam war in "Reflections of a Warrior," a book that reads like the morning report from an all-night bull session at a Special Forces "A" camp.

Miller's war was very different from the massive air and armor blitzkrieg in the Persian Gulf. Among other things, nobody was awarded a Medal of Honor in the Gulf war.

Miller fought the smallest of small unit warfare: seven- to 10-man reconnaissance teams on long range patrols alone among the enemy in the jungle and mountains of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

His was a deeply personal war of individual combat, not a push button computer science encounter. He remembers looking into the eyes of men he killed.

Miller remembers, for example, the time he went seven days without food while on a deep probe into enemy territory when bad weather grounded rescue helicopters.

That's about three days longer than the ground war in the Gulf lasted. Miller took a chance on compromising his position and shot a wild pig. He and his team then ate pig another three days before the choppers came.

He won his Silver Star when he burned out his M-60 machine gun covering the retreat of his Reconnaissance Platoon after they more or less walked into an North Vietnamese Army base camp. Nineteen of the 29 men in the platoon died. Not quite the same as the Gulf where just 143 out of about a half-million people were killed in action.

The Viet Cong and NVA enemy in Vietnam fought tenaciously, and, of course, ultimately victoriously. Miller often salutes the cunning and expertise and courage of his opponents. He was in fact one of the few Americans who spent about as much time in the jungles as the Vietnamese enemy. He speaks of only one surrender: a man dying of hepatitis.

He earned his Medal of Honor during a horrendous firefight in Laos between his seven-man Recon Team and perhaps a hundred NVA.

Two Americans and three Montagnards were gravely injured instantly when they triggered a booby trap. Montagnards were non-Vietnamese mountain people trained for combat with Special Forces units. A fourth Montagnard, their point man, was killed treating the wounded.

Miller was left the only man in condition to fight. He held off the NVA for nearly two-and-a-half hours with an extraordinary combination of courage and combat cunning. Then then he was hit. An AK-47 round smashed through his chest and lung and came out his back.

He fought panic to staunch and bind his wounds with a field dressing and a hunk of his poncho quickly enough to kill three enemy troopers who came looking to finish their job. He managed to drag, push and carry his four men now left living to a bomb crater where they made their last stand.

Miller went out to met the enemy in a kind of desperate one-man ambush. With gas and fragmentation grenades and M-16 fire he managed to halt the NVA troops briefly.

He rallied two men still conscious and all three fought until they were all wounded again and their ammunition virtually exhausted. This "asskick" came to a John Wayne ending when a Hatchet Force rescue platoon appeared over the rim of the crater.

Miller and two others from his seven man squad survived; two men died on the battlefield, two on the operating table.

Miller spent his first two tours as an airborne infantryman, mostly on long range reconnaissance patrols. He won his Silver Star (and Air Medal) with the First Cavalry Division.

The next four years he served with perhaps the most elite Special Forces unit in Vietnam: MACV-SOG in the anagrammatical parlance of the Army. Mack-vee, as it was pronounced, was the primary headquarters in-country. SOG meant Studies and Observation Group.

Miller was with SOG 35 under Command and Control Central, which ran operations into Laos from a place called Kontum. He led RT Vermont, a reconnaissance team. They went out on what could be called search, snatch and destroy missions.

He loved his work. In trying to explain why he stayed six years in Vietnam, he asks where else in the Army could an enlisted man have the respect, responsibility and freedom he had.

He worked out an equation: "Job Satisfaction plus Responsibility plus Respect plus Freedom equals A Pretty Outstanding Deal."

Plus he conquered fear and he had a Special Talent: He "gathered intelligence and killed human beings under extremely adverse conditions.

"Killing someone is a unique ability all by itself," he writes. "Not everybody can lay a weapon's sights on a fellow human being and crank off a round. . . .

"It takes a certain something not found in everybody."

Miller says he did not like killing: He killed only when somebody was trying to kill him. But he doesn't deny he was good at it.

His book is written with a remarkable matter-of-fact frankness -- and a certain swagger and bravado. He liked being one of the baddest guys in 'Nam.

The writing has the profanity of combat. And he seems to have spent most of his off-time with his buddies drinking and whoring in the "villes." He doesn't make any apologies: "Play time -- and we played hard -- was always well-earned."

He seems to have been totally apolitical: there's exactly zero in this book about saving Vietnam for democracy.

Miller wrote the book with Captain Elwood J.C. Kureth during a yearlong tour of duty in Korea. They polished it for a couple more years before sending it to Presidio Press, a military book publishing house.

He's got 26 years in the Army now. He's a sergeant major for a logistics command in Hawaii, a trouble shooter who serves as a liaison between the army and its suppliers. And he's the single parent of a boy, Joshua, 9, and a girl, Dannie, 7. He's thinking about retiring next year.

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