Close to twenty years ago I had the pleasure and the honor of meeting a remarkable man. That man’s name was Morton Ralph Miller. He was a World War II war veteran who served in the Pacific Theater. After the war, Mort had a long career with the US Postal Service in Schenectady until he retired in the late 70’s. After he retired, he continued working as a driver in various business driving busses and shuttling veterans to and from the local VA hospital. The man never stood still; he didn’t know how. Because of it, I always thought of him as the youngest man I knew and he was in his 90’s.
Mort was also a proud father and a family man who loved his wife of 52 years, his children, and grandchildren and who would do anything for anyone at any time. He was a great man and he was loved by many. There wasn’t a place he could go without someone recognizing him. I remember once I was able to enter the country coming back from a trip to Canada because I dropped his name at the border. The officer said, “Oh yeah, I know Mort! Go on in!”
This past weekend, Mort fell dizzy and collapsed. His car keys still in hand, he was rushed to the hospital. On the way to the hospital his heart stopped three times and three times the EMS revived him. Unfortunately, when he got to the hospital, his brain had been deprived of too much oxygen. It would only be a matter of time for the inevitable.
I never knew my real grandfathers and I never really did have a great relationship with my grandmothers. When I met my future wife, I was introduced to this wonderful, close-knit family. They welcomed me into their homes and never made me feel like an outsider. I was proud to call them my family and him my grandfather.
After my wife and I divorced, I felt like I had lost more than a partner. I felt like I lost my family. It’s one of the worst feelings I’ve ever experienced and I do not wish it on anyone. When I heard the news that Mort had passed away, I felt like a piece of me was ripped from my heart. Never again will I share a cup of coffee with him, or hear him tell a joke, or one of his amazing war stories.
Knowing him was a privilege. I learned so much from him and I always looked up to him. I will carry his memory with me always. And even though we are not related by blood. I will always consider him to be my grandfather.
Since Grandpa Miller loved to tell stories, I think it’s only fitting to remember him by retelling one of my favorite stories of his as best as I can remember. This is a true story as told to me by Mort Miller:
During his tour in the Pacific, Mort Miller had been wounded in combat and had spent a few days in an Army hospital while he healed. After a few days, Mort had been discharged and given orders to return to duty. It was his responsibility to find transportation back to his unit. On the way out of the hospital he runs into a buddy of his who was a pilot. They chat for a while as they exchanged banter and friendly insults. His buddy no doubt gives Mort a hard time for his major injuries. I can just picture a young Mort giving it right back to him.
His buddy asks him where he’s off to next. Mort tells him he’s been given orders to return to work and that he has to find a way to get back to his men. His buddy offers to take him there himself. After all, he’s orders are to drop off cargo at one of the bases in New Guinea where Mort’s unit was stationed. He was only happy to give him a lift. There was only one problem, he’d have to ride in the back with the cargo as there was no room up front. Mort agreed and they took off as soon as they could.
I don’t recall the type of plane they were on, I want to say it was a C-119 Fairchild, but I could be wrong. However, the type of plane is not important. The fact is that Mort is in the back of this plane, probably reading a book and smoking a cigarette, enjoying his free ride when suddenly the back doors begin to open. Curious, Mort gets up to check out the view as the doors are getting wider and wider. That’s when the plane takes a steep climb to let the cargo in the bay slide right off and on to the target on the grown. I guess when his buddy said drop off, he really meant drop!
Unfortunately, Mort was not secured in place since he had not been told that they were going to do that. As Mort falls to the floor of the plane and now finds himself sliding down the cargo bay and inches away from the back of the plane and to his imminent plunge towards hard ground, he loses his book and somehow manages to hang on to a set of cargo netting on the wall of the plane.
As he struggled to hang on, I’m sure he thought to himself that if he gets out of this alive he would kill his buddy, but he would have to hang on and avoid the barrage of cargo and seemed to be trying to knock him loose as they slid by.
What seemed like forever hanging on to this netting and probably now all bruised up from a ton of crates banging against him, the plane finally begins to level off and the cargo doors begin to close. Mort sat there dumbfounded as he thanked his lucky star he is still alive.
When the plane lands, Mort is still in shock. Not one member of the crew had bothered to come out of the cockpit to see if he was okay. You can imagine how pissed he must’ve felt. Finally, the cockpit door opens and his buddy emerges through the door and lays eyes on Mort for the first time since they took off. Mort always describes his buddy turning white as a ghost and uttering in pure shock, “Jesus Christ, I forgot all about you!!”
I salute you Private First Class Miller! “We’ll sue ya!”