The story of Corporal Kelly Miller, United States Marine Corps, is one that is being lived across the country by thousands of Americans wounded while serving in the Global War on Terrorism. Corporal Miller is living with the guilt he feels for surviving an attack that took the life of one of his fellow soldiers.
While searching an Iraqi vehicle in the spring of 2004, Miller and his squad leader, Corporal Jason Dunham, were attacked with a grenade in a surprise move by the driver. Corporal Dunham selflessly shielded his fellow Marines while intentionally taking the full brunt of the explosion, a heroic decision that cost him his life.
Suffering from repeated nightmares about the attack, Kelly Miller began to feel as though he should have been able to do more to save his squad leader. For a very long time he couldn’t bring himself to talk to Corporal Dunham’s parents, and when they did finally meet he only spent fifteen minutes with them, not sure what to say or how to act.
The guilty feelings continued to intensify as Miller’s unit prepared to head back to Iraq for a second tour. Struggling to overcome the injuries he suffered in the grenade attack that killed his friend, Miller fought to rejoin his old platoon in time for the deployment to Ramadi, capital of the volatile al-Anbar Province.
As he explained to his mother, “I have to finish something I started the first time. I have to go and finish what Dunham started, and bring my guys home.”
After completing his unit’s second tour, Miller decided it was time to move on from military service and planned to join his older brother as a sheriff’s deputy when his enlistment was up. His guilt over the loss of his friend, though, had not diminished and Miller’s behavior began to grow more and more reckless.
One night after drinking with some buddies, Miller crashed his car, seriously injuring his girlfriend and resulting in felony charges from the police.
The crash served as a wake-up call for Miller, and scoldings from his mother and Corporal Dunham’s mother made him realize that his friend had given him a gift that day in Iraq. His guilt was obscuring the second chance on life that Corporal Dunham had provided.
Fellow Marines, Miller’s mother, and Corporal Dunham’s family all wrote letters to the judge explaining that Miller had been fighting his own personal demons since the grenade attack. With his felony charges still pending, Corporal Miller is hoping to begin again and to make good on the life saved by Jason Dunham.
He is looking forward to a White House ceremony on January 11 where President Bush will present the Medal of Honor to Corporal Dunham’s parents, the first for a Marine since the conflict in Vietnam.