After 38 years, Palacios pilot's remains from Vietnam identified
March 20, 2010 at 10:03 p.m.
Updated March 21, 2010 at 10:22 p.m.
Nell Miller Smith hoped for almost four decades that her son would be found alive.
Air Force Major Curtis Daniel Miller, a 25-year-old husband and father of a 2-year-old daughter, was fighting in the Vietnam War in 1972 when his plane was shot down.
"My hope was that he was alive and had just gone into hiding after his plane went down," she said, fighting off tears.
Miller's remains were uncovered in an excavation several years ago.
Last week, the Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office announced Miller's remains had been identified.
On March 29, exactly 38 years to the day that the mission was brought down, friends and family will remember Miller in a memorial ceremony at the Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery.
Miller, a native of Palacios, was part of the 16th Special Operations Squadron, Ubon Airfield in Thailand during the Vietnam War.
On March 29, 1972, 14 men, including Miller 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.
"This is just very difficult to accept," said Smith, who now lives in Huntsville.
A family's pain
Teary-eyed, Smith, now remarried, said she is either brave or crazy for having to endure so much heartache in her lifetime. Her husband died two years after her son's plane was shot down and her other son, Kent, died in 1996 after a kidney transplant.
After the Vietnam War ended, she and her late husband Paul, traveled all over the United States looking for information about what really had happened to their son.
Miller's father, along with 50 other family members with a missing loved one made a trip to Laos for information, or expecting to return with a loved one.
"But we didn't get the information we were looking for," she said. "And he never got to see his son alive."
Six weeks before his deployment, Miller, his wife Susan Miller and their daughter, then 2, visited with family in Palacios.
"That was the last time I saw him," said Smith, her voice filled with sadness.
Now all she has are the memories of him and a favorite song of his, "Follow Me," that he would always sing at Sunday church services.
"This song speaks to me because the song in the third verse says, 'Oh Jesus if I die upon a foreign field someday.' It is just amazing that it was his favorite song and that is what happened," she said.
Raymond Morgan remembers the fun times he and Miller shared growing up in Palacios.
Friends since the seventh grade, Morgan and Miller shared a special bond.
"Dan used to go around singing the Oscar Mayer Wiener jingle and make people laugh," the retired educator said.
Miller was hilarious and fun to be around, he said.
"But he was also sincere with strong Christian beliefs. If you were a friend of his, it was for life," he said.
Not only were they good friends, Morgan also worked for Miller's dad at a machine shop they owned in Palacios.
It has been 39 years and Morgan admits, he lost contact with the family, but he always wondered about his close friend and wondered why all this happened.
Morgan visited with his friend before his deployment in 1972 and remembers him as being very happy.
When the announcement was made that Miller's plane had been shot down, there was concern in town, Morgan said.
"We all took it very hard because we all knew each other in town and my concern went straight to his family," he said.
Morgan said he is glad the Miller family will finally be able to close a sad chapter in their life.
A lot of military men and women are still missing, he said.
"Those families have an open void in their hearts and they should be able to get closure," he said.
Bringing remains home
Last week, Miller's widow, Susan Miller, who lives in Azle, near Fort Worth, flew to Hawaii to escort her husband's remains back to Texas.
It has been very difficult for her, Smith said.
His widow was taken to the Joint Prisoners of War, Missing in Action Accounting Command Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii, whose mission is to search for, recover and identify U.S. personnel missing from past military conflicts.
She was shown her husband's remains.
"People are happy that Dan has been found and is back," Smith said. "But that is not Dan. Those are only remains. They are a symbol of him."
On the day of the service, Morgan will think about all the fun times they had and reminisce about the past and the friendship they both shared.
"It's a time to be happy, feel relief and feel closure," he said.
Morgan is adamant that God does things for a reason and that friends and family will finally have closure.
"At the end of the day, we all have to hold hands and pray, because of people like Dan we have the freedom to do whatever we want in this country," he said.