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View a eulogy for William James Miller, USMA '64, who passed away on April 20, 2003.

William James Miller

West Point, 1964

Be Thou At Peace

Posted by Doug Barr on September 8, 2004:


When I picture Bill in my mind, I see a happy smiling face.

I first met Bill during Plebe year at West Point. Bill and I were roommates during parts of Plebe and Yearling years. I got to know Bill pretty well during the time we were roommates. I soon realized how extremely fortunate I was to have him as my roommate and close friend during those years he was like a Brother.

Bill possessed the most wonderful personal traits anyone could ever hope to have. He was extremely dedicated to his Family and to his work. He was filled with kindness to others. He believed very strongly in the ideals of West Point in Duty, Honor and Country, and he lived those ideals every day of his life. On top of that, he was an honest, loyal, helpful, reliable friend, with a strong sense of humor, and Bill could also be quite a prankster at times.

During the second half of Plebe year, Bill and I roomed right across the hall from Cadet "Firsties" George Joulwan and his roommate, Pat Murphy. George was the starting Center on the Army Football Team. He was a big, impressive, and intimidating guy to look at, especially if you were a plebe.

The first time we met George and Pat was when they came to our room to pay us an unannounced, upper class visit to inspect our room. Bill and I were in our room studying with the door closed. Suddenly, George hit the door with a single blow that made such a large noise it scared the heck out of us. We jumped to attention. George opened the door slowly. When they entered our room, they both had the most threatening, angry looks on their face. Bill and I thought we were dead. It turned out they were actually playing a game with us, but we didn't realize it at the time. On this first visit, they made us sweat thru several minutes of upper-class intimidation. Then they warned us that we had better be good plebes or else we would be in big trouble! When they finally left our room, Bill and I thought we were in for a very tough second half of Plebe Year.

Later, as we got to know them better during their numerous inspection visits, we realized they were good-natured and were only pretending to be tough with us, most of the time. We never quite knew, however, when they were joking, and when they were serious and that was the game they played. They would always try to make us crack a smile while we were standing at attention with our "chins smashed in." Their game was to entice us to smile when we were suppose to keep a straight face, and then they would chew us out in a playful manner for the smiling infraction. While standing at attention under these conditions, Bill typically could not hold a straight face he would always crack a smile. Then he would receive some intense but playful counseling from George and Pat for smiling too much. I could tell they liked Bill a lot. Everyone liked Bill.

Bill the Cadet Prankster: After finishing Plebe Year, Bill, John Harnisch and I started Yearling Year as roommates. Having just returned from the summer, The Corps was generally in a refreshed and feisty mood as a result of their summer experiences.

One warm fall evening after class, Bill, John and I were studying in our room with the windows open. At around 8 PM without warning, a bunch of water balloons flew through the windows into our room from the darkness outside. All the balloons splattered. Our room was a mess. Outside we could hear some laughter and recognized the voices of the three Cows who roomed nearby in the adjacent division.

We cleaned up the mess, and thought about our next steps. Bill saw this water balloon incident as a great opportunity to retaliate. He quietly devised a plan for a surprise counter-attack against these culprits.

Bill secretly implemented his plan on a Sunday morning shortly thereafter, when all of the Cadets, except Bill, were away attending Sunday Chapel services. Bill had duty that morning as Cadet in Charge of Quarters so he had to stay back in the cadet area. During this time, Bill went to the Cows' room, filled up some wastebaskets full of water, and carefully propped them up in such a way that they would fall over onto the floor when the Cows opened their door inward to knock over the wastebaskets.

Bill's plan worked like a charm. When the Cows returned from Chapel Services in their full-dress uniforms they opened their door and knocked over the buckets, which flooded their room with water. We could hear their angry outbursts when they realized what had happened, and we laughed with great pleasure. The Cows then made a more escalated water counterattack on our room. The results were a couple of very wet, messy rooms that day.

After Graduation: Bill and I served the first three years of our Army careers together. After graduation and Bill's marriage to Carolynn, Bill and I traveled together to Ft. Benning where we underwent Army Airborne and Ranger Training together. Bill and I were roommates again during Airborne School. We underwent the airborne physical training program together, we agonized together, we made our first jumps together, and we celebrated Airborne graduation together.

During the Army Ranger Training that followed, Bill and I were Ranger Buddies. We stayed together throughout the training, watched out for each other during the dangerous parts, and trusted each other at all times.

During the Mountain Training Phase, we were learning how to rappel down steep mountain cliffs in Georgia. The Ranger instructors decided that the rappelling final exam would be for each pair of Ranger Buddies to rappel together down a very high vertical rock cliff. The catch was that one of the Ranger Buddies must be tied with a rope, piggy-back style, to the back of the other Buddy to simulate a mountain rescue situation. Since I weighed less that Bill, we decided that I would be tied to Bill's back, and Bill would do the rappelling. As I was being tied securely to Bill's back, I mentioned to him that he had better not screw this up. Bill agreed with me.

As Bill approached the edge of the cliff on rappel, I experienced for the first time what it was like to place my life in the hands of my Ranger Buddy. It was a long way down to the bottom, and as we inched down the face of the cliff, it seemed as if my rappelling ride on Bill's back would never end. Needless to say, Bill was as cool as could be, and he did a wonderful job rappelling us down the face of that cliff. We celebrated together at the bottom. I will never forget that day with Bill.

Following that initial Army training, Bill and I were both stationed at Ft. Lewis. We were both assigned as Armored Cavalry Platoon Leaders in the 1st Squadron, 10th Cavalry. Two years later we shipped out to Vietnam together with that unit. We served together in Vietnam for the following year. At the end of that year Bill and I went on different Army career paths, and although we kept in touch from time to time, we never had the opportunity to spend much time together.

John Harnisch and I last spoke to Bill on the phone just about a week before he passed away. John and I happened to call Bill at his home, and we had a wonderful time talking to Bill, retelling old war stories, and making reunion plans for the future. It was like old times, together again.

Bill will be in our hearts forever.

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