Palacios native missing in action for 38 years, honored with military funeral
March 29, 2010 at 8:03 p.m.
Updated March 29, 2010 at 10:30 p.m.
DALLAS - Monday, 38 years to the day that Maj. Curtis Daniel "Dan" Miller's plane was shot down over Vietnam, a 21-gun salute was fired to honor his life and death.
After not knowing for almost four decades what happened to him, the Air Force officer's family was finally able to put him to rest at the Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery.
In early March, the military notified the Palacios native's family that remains recovered from Southern Laos were his. His widow, Susan Miller, went to Hawaii two weeks ago to escort his remains to Texas.
Family, friends and old Air Force buddies gathered to celebrate and honor the pilot's life in an emotion-filled ceremony.
The service included full military honors of an Air Force honor guard, a military salute and a U.S. flag-draped casket.
Patriot Guard Riders, a group of motorcycle riders, escorted Miller's remains and his family to the cemetery.
The surprise of the ceremony was an AC-130A Spectre gunship, similar to the plane Miller piloted 38 years ago, flew over in honor of Miller.
Miller's mom Nell Miller Smith, daughter Christine Miller Hollerich, granddaughter Madison Hollerich, and widow held each other throughout the memorial service.
The U.S. flag was presented Miller's wife, daughter and mother.
"He's returned to us, back to Texas," his daughter said.
On March 29, 1972, 14 men, including Miller, 25, were aboard an AC-130A Spectre gunship that took off from Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base, on an armed reconnaissance mission over Southern Laos. The plane was struck by an enemy surface-to-air missile and crashed as it was flying over the Ho Chi Minh trail.
Welcome Home, Dan
Friends and family gathered on Sunday for a day of remembrance.
"After 38 years, it is time for the family to celebrate," said the Rev. Laurie P. Feille of the Azle Christian Church.
There has been so much sadness, loss and questions, and it is now time to remember, she said.
Gloria Harrison, a college friend who introduced Miller and the former Susan Rothrock, remembered the last time she saw Miller.
"All he could talk about was flying that plane," she said. "He explained every detail of that plane with such enthusiasm."
She also remembered the smile and twinkle in his eyes and the day he and his friend took a five-gallon bucket of ice cream from the university cafeteria and shared it with everyone around them.
"He was a child at heart," she said, with a soft lift in her frown.
"Dan died doing exactly what he loved, and that was flying in the sky."
A wife's love
Susan Miller never remarried. The love she had for him was strong, and she never lost hope.
"I am so glad to be alive to receive him home," she said, holding back tears. "It has been such a long time and I never thought I would have the chance for this."
It was a joyful day to celebrate her husband's life, she said.
Her smile grew brighter as she spoke about her husband to others around her.
Throughout the years, the family kept the memory of her husband alive by telling stories about him to their only daughter, Christine.
"We wanted her to know what a special man he was and that he loved her very much," she said.
A daughter's love
Their daughter was 3 days old when her dad would sit her in her bassinet and read the newspaper's sports section.
He loved the Dallas Cowboys.
"He would talk to me about the team, player positions and would say that they would play other teams so they could have others to beat," she said.
She knows this because she had people in her life who kept father's memory alive.
"I wish I had my own memories of my daddy and not the memories of others," she said.
Hollerich was 2 years old when her father's plane was shot down. For 38 years, Hollerich has been told stories, been hugged and has had tears wiped away, she said.
"This is not what was supposed to happen, but at least his death is not a mystery anymore," she added.
With a smile on her face and tears flowing down, she looked up at the sky as the AC-130A Spectre gunship roared over the ceremony.
"I am closest to my dad when I look up at the sky," she said. "All I have to do is look up at the clouds, salute him and say, 'Hi Daddy.'"