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Two Distinguished Officers—Two Valuable Legacies
Cmdr. Barbara E. Miller Leaves Bequest to the DAV
Commander Barbara E. Miller NC USN (RET), of Gales Ferry, Conn., a retired Navy nurse with many a story to share, has several distinct reasons for naming the DAV in her will. A disabled veteran herself, Barbara joined the DAV in the early 1980s after hurting her back while lifting hundreds of patients. An ardent reader of the DAV membership magazine, she says "I can see that the DAV does such fine work. I'm very impressed." But her true interest in disabled veterans goes much further back in time.
Barbara was commissioned a Lt. j.g. in the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps in 1961. During the fall of that year while completing her master's thesis, she passed a Navy recruitment poster on the sidewalk which beckoned: "Join the Navy and See the World!" She walked into the recruitment office, announced her intentions, and was asked by a sailor, "Do you type?" With her reply, "I do not type, I am a nurse!" She was whisked upstairs to a Nurse Corps Officer who inquired, "Are you sure?" Upon hearing that Barbara was completing her master's degree, a rarity in that day, she hastily produced papers for her to sign.
At the residence hall that night, Barbara's fellow nurses shook their heads and told her she was crazy. Before that day, joining the military had indeed been the furthest thing from her mind. Yet Barbara knew she had made the right decision. She wanted to travel which would otherwise not bode well for her career.
Upon completing Officer Candidate School, Newport, R.I., in 1962, Barbara was ready and willing to do anything and go anywhere. She received her first set of orders for duty at the National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, Md., where she cared for high-ranking officers and members of Congress and the Senate. Among her patients were Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson and Admirals Rickover, Hepburn, and Ageton. She also assisted with physical examinations for President John Kennedy and his brothers, Senators Robert and Ted Kennedy.
In May 1964, Barbara departed Bethesda for a two-year overseas assignment at the U.S. Naval Hospital (USNH) Yokosuka, Japan. After the first few months, the Vietnam conflict erupted and the majority of wounded Marines were sent to Yokosuka. Barbara's experiences in caring for the wounded became her primary motivation for naming the DAV in her will.
"I have great respect in my heart for the Marine Corps—the patients I cared for there. I saw the camaraderie and what they did for each other, even when torn apart by war. Once I saw an amputee crawling across the deck on his stumps, to give a magazine to a friend. I offered to do it for him, but he said, 'No, please—I want to do it myself.'"
In 1966, Barbara left Japan and returned to turbulent times in America. Disembarking in San Diego, she and the injured Marines she was escorting encountered anti-war demonstrators who hurled eggs and insults at them.
With her assignment at the USNH, San Diego, she cared for the paralyzed wounded, then in 1969 she was transferred to the USNH, Philadelphia where she cared for hundreds of amputees. "It was a long war and it followed me for several years," she reflects. "When asked how I endured caring for the many wounded young men, my usual reply was: 'I always had my faith in God and kept my sense of humor!'"
In the final years of Barbara's 20-year military career, she was assigned to medical research, television, and film work for the Navy Nurse Corps at Bethesda, Md.
When asked if she's had contact with any of the hundreds of Marines she has cared for, Barbara paused and replied, "No, but nurses like me sure wish we could. Often we hear from veterans who say 'We'd give anything to find our nurses.'"
Barbara has too many accomplishments and awards to mention but she was a charter member of the Women's Military Memorial in Washington, D.C. She was featured in its first calendar for her work caring for the crew of the USS Pueblo in 1968 upon their return from imprisonment in North Korea.
Today, at age 72, Cmdr. Miller is in her fourth year as volunteer director of the Retired Activities Office, U.S. Naval Submarine Base, Groton, Conn. In this position, she has a staff of 20 retired military men who volunteer to assist in and serve the military retirees and their families. She meets many DAV members and often hears them remark "the DAV is right there" for them, offering rides to the VA Medical Center and helping with their benefits. "I'm just always hearing good things about the DAV," she says.
Barbara's thoughts frequently drift back to visions of the traumatic injuries and wounds the young Marines suffered as she cared for them during the late 1960s and 1970s. She concludes: "I know my bequest to the DAV will contribute to the many fine DAV endeavors which will help the physically and mentally disabled from wartime experiences. This assurance will help me close the last chapter of my life and I believe I have made a good decision. I am glad to be able to make a small contribution for DAV programs."
Lt. Col. Shirl M. Finley Names DAV in Her Will
We also salute Lt. Col. Shirl M. Finley of Rocklin, Calif., who named the DAV in her will in 2006. Shirl first enlisted in the USAF in 1969 after completing one year of college and not being sure what degree to pursue. Like Barbara Miller, she wanted to travel and see different cultures so the military piqued her interest. An older brother had been in the USAF as well.
Shirl was on active duty for four years and worked in medical administration for Eglin and Homestead AFB hospitals. Again, like Barbara Miller, she witnessed service men who were severely injured in Vietnam: "They were really young men, my age and younger, with major injuries, including a few with absolutely no limbs. Yet they still had that strong spirit. It hit me so hard—I never lost that connection."
After her active duty, Shirl took a few months off then joined the Air Force Reserve in 1974. She also became a part-time student and gradually earned her bachelor's degree then an MA in computer-based education. Her civilian career has included teaching and software training, and her Reserve duties—from 1974 through today—have always been in medical administration. She was commissioned in 1989.
Shirl notes that her family had a very strong tradition of giving back to the community, so when she went back to college, she also became a volunteer at the Long Beach VAMC where she worked everywhere, from the emergency room to the terminal wards. "I learned a lot—it was very rewarding."
As for her bequest to the DAV, Shirl hopes it will be used to improve the quality of life for disabled veterans to alleviate their struggles. "They need help in many ways to get through their disabilities."
Shirl also said she considers it "a personal privilege to talk to older veterans," and she hopes to volunteer sometime soon again with veterans. Upon hearing of the DAV's Transportation Network, which is always looking for volunteers to take veterans to VA medical appointments, she grew excited and asked that an information packet be sent to her.
In 2010, Shirl will have completed 40 years of service. Before she retires she aspires to make full Colonel. "If I don't, I'll still be proud of how far I have progressed after enlisting as an Airman Basic in 1969," she says.Back