This past August, West Columbia resident James Miller was gearing up for his own election. He was vying for National Junior Vice Commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. Purple Heart recipients are forever known as ardent, persevering patriots, and James wears that title proudly, referring to himself as Patriot Miller. He received his Purple Heart in 1970 as an Army soldier on tour in Vietnam and was wounded by a rocket/mortar attack. He has received countless other medals, but it is his Purple Heart that defines him.
“I wear mine proudly,” he says. “I love the Purple Heart … I live the Purple Heart.”
America was barely in existence when President George Washington — a man who was among the first real patriots — decided in 1782 to establish the Badge of Military Merit. His orders were thus: “ … the author of it shall be permitted to wear on his facings, over his left breast, the figure of a heart in purple cloth or silk edged with narrow lace or binding.” It was not until 1932 that the honor was dubbed the Purple Heart by order of the then Secretary of War, Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
The National Purple Heart Hall of Honor in New Windsor, New York, showcases stories of Purple Heart recipients, while the MOPH, established in 1958 just outside of Washington, D.C., is a membership organization for men and women honored with the Purple Heart. There are six regional departments, and membership nationwide is more than 45,000. This past year, after serving for four different terms as the South Carolina State Commander for the MOPH, Patriot Miller was voted in as Region IV Commander over eight states. He says he has been so proud and honored to be a regional leader in the organization — and he has worked tirelessly to support the members and program — that he would like to eventually become a National Officer.
“I just let the Lord lead,” says Patriot Miller regarding what is ahead for him in terms of leadership in the organization. “That’s how I am and how I’ve lived my life. Only He knows my future for sure.”
Since becoming a soldier in 1968, Patriot Miller has lived a life of service. It is all he knows and loves. And, he believes that wearing the Purple Heart comes with the responsibility of modeling that service. On his August campaign poster, which featured a photo on Memorial Day this year of him flanked by Seth, his 3-year-old grandson in fatigue pants saluting, and Abby, his 5-year-old granddaughter, with her hand over her heart at the Fort Jackson National Cemetery, he vowed: “I am committed to work with all Patriots to help make our Order the best it can be.” He also promised “to work to bring integrity, honesty, leadership and communication” to MOPH under his leadership.
“As members of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, we share a common bond that is stronger than any of our differences,” he adds. “We are a ‘Band of Brothers.’”
After being honorably discharged from his active duty service in Vietnam, following injuries to his foot when his compound was hit by a North Vietnamese rocket, he later enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserve where he served 23 years. In 1998, his unit deployed to Bosnia during the Bosnian/Serb War as part of a NATO force. He was a maintenance sergeant for a trailer transfer point, which meant that he repaired supply trailers as they delivered supplies into Serbia.
He saw devastation and human casualties in both Vietnam and Bosnia.
He officially retired from the Reserve in 2002; yet, the word retire is not necessarily in Patriot Miller’s vocabulary. Serving took on a different form when he was a Federal Fire Department Station Captain for the U.S. Army at Fort Jackson. There he handled a multitude of tasks: scheduling firefighters’ duty days, job appraisals, assisting in fire ground tactics and supervising firefighting crews.
“My leadership skills learned in the military were used on a daily basis in my responsibilities as a station captain,” he says.
He finally officially retired from fire service in 2005, but has since not only been in leadership in the Military Order of the Purple Heart but he has also coached boys’ and girls’ soccer teams, having been voted Coach of the Year for two years by the South Carolina Association of Christian Schools.
Besides a commitment to his Purple Heart duties, Patriot Miller is staunchly dedicated to family. He works part time at Thompson Funeral Home, spends time with Mary, his wife of 45 years, his three children and 10 grandchildren … and enjoys camping and traveling.
During his time with the MOPH, his family has been supportive. In fact, Paul, his oldest son, and his family participated with him in a recent Purple Heart Convention in Norfolk, Virginia. Involvement in the military is a family affair. Paul served six years in the National Guard and completed two tours in Iraq, where he received the Bronze Star.
Even Frank, his father, and several siblings were in the military. However, because he was adopted, Patriot Miller did not obtain this information until after his retirement. In fact, it was not until he turned 65 that he first met his biological father. Not surprisingly, it was the brotherhood of the Purple Heart that assisted in tracking down his biological father, who was on the eve of his 90th birthday. He learned that his father had been stationed in the Army Air Corps at Greenville Air Force Base in South Carolina. He was a military man like Patriot Miller. His father had also been a catcher for the Air Force baseball team. In addition, Patriot Miller met seven biological siblings and more than 40 other relatives for the first time.
“My dad told me he was glad this day had come,” he says, expressing how grateful he was for the help of the Purple Heart organization. “We shared pictures, memories … it was truly a great day.”
Since the unlikely reunion, which Patriot Miller says may never have happened had it not been for the MOPH, he regularly speaks to his biological father by phone and keeps in touch with his brothers and sisters via phone and Facebook.
“I thank the Lord for being involved in the Purple Heart, but also for His guidance in reuniting me with my family.”
The Purple Heart honor continues to be a defining factor in his life. At present he says he is determining where he will be “led” next regarding the MOPH organization.
“I hope my legacy is that I lived my life with integrity and truthfulness and that I have done the right thing at the right time for the right reason and according to God’s will.”