Longtime Guard recruiter John Miller remembered as 'Soldier's Soldier'
John Miller was remembered Monday as an excellent recruiter, a highly decorated veteran, and as a fair-minded friend who could always be counted on to tell it to you straight.
But Miller was given perhaps the highest compliment that can be bestowed a military man when one high-ranking officer described him this way -- a soldier's soldier.
"One of the things you can say about John without hesitation is that nobody was more dedicated to the Missouri Army National Guard than he was," said Maj. Craig Gatzemeyer, commander of the 27th Recruiting and Retention Battalion.
The Missouri National Guard lost a friend on Monday when Miller, a longtime recruiter and Vietnam War veteran, died at his Cape Girardeau home from a heart attack. Miller was 63.
Gatzemeyer, who had known Miller since the early 1990s, said Miller was responsible for thousands of new enlistees from his days as a recruiter. Miller started in the Bootheel and later became the noncommissioned officer in charge of recruiting for the entire Southeast Missouri region.
"He was part-friend, part-dad," Gatzemeyer said. "John was excellent. He truly believed that the Missouri National Guard was the strongest organization in the world and he was committed to that. He was a soldier's soldier. He is going to be missed."
Miller joined the U.S. Army in 1964, serving for three years, including a stint in Vietnam, where he was helicopter crew chief and door gunner. He later joined the Missouri National Guard in 1974, working his way up through the ranks and serving in recruiting and retention for more than 20 years.
During his military service, Miller received many medals, awards and commendations, including three Meritorious Service Medals, three Air Medals and two Army Commendation Medals.
Miller retired as a master sergeant in 2001, but he stayed on with the National Guard as a civilian contractor, working with young recruiters to help them bolster their skills and offer suggestions on how they might improve. He was working in that capacity at the time of his death.
"He was the guru of all gurus when it came to recruiting," said Staff Sgt. Steve Bell, a recruiter based in Cape Girardeau. "He was honest and fair and he would tell you how it was. If you were doing something wrong, he never side-stepped the truth. He knew we needed to hear the truth if we were going to get better at our jobs."
But Miller was also a devoted husband, father and -- more recently -- a grandfather. Capt. Scot Ratcliff, administrative officer for the 1140th Engineer Battalion, said Miller was very involved in the lives of his grandchildren.
"He coached Little League baseball and was a big supporter of kids' athletics," Ratcliff said. "He was just an all-around great guy."
Those who worked with Miller in the past were saddened and shocked to learn of the death of their dear friend Monday.
Dewayne Jackson, a retired recruiter, worked with Miller for more than a decade in the 1980s in Southeast Missouri. The two became close friends during that time.
"He was a mentor for sure," Jackson said. "He was very pro-Guard. And the reason he was so good at it is that he cared about people. I'd say he's one of the most outstanding people I've ever met. He knew the military from front to back."
Miller's commitment to the National Guard shows in the amount of time he put into the job, Jackson said.
"He was still promoting the Guard into his 60s," Jackson said. "He was really proud of the Guard and he really believed in it. It wasn't just something he was saying."
Retired National Guard Soldier John Barker also worked with Miller as a recruiter in the Bootheel.
"It's a rare thing in the military for your boss to become your best friend, but that's what happened," Barker said. "He was an excellent recruiter. As a boss, he was always fair with me. When you messed up, you knew John was the person to call. He knew how to fix it. The Guard always came first with him."
Those who worked with him at the Cape Girardeau armory said Miller's presence will be missed around the office, where Miller could be counted on for good-natured teasing or a shoulder to lean on.
"He was just a real sociable, good guy to work with," said Staff Sgt. Daniel Schaab, a former recruiter who trained under Miller who now heads up the Recruit Sustainment Program in Cape Girardeau. "He was someone who would do anything for you, but a lot of times we'd just talk baseball or politics. If you were having a bad day, he had a way of making you laugh it off."
Sgt. 1st Class Dennis Allred, the readiness noncommissioned officer for the Forward Support Company 1140th Engineer Battalion, worked in the same office as Miller for the last several years as well.
"He was one of those hero types," Allred said. "He was kind of a dad in the Guard for the younger guys. After he came back from Vietnam, he really devoted his adult life to the National Guard. I'm going to miss him, I can tell you that."
Miller was survived by his wife, Sharon; two children, John Miller and Gretchen Morris; and two grandchildren, Josh and Taylor. He is also survived by a son-in-law, Kevin Morris.