A surprise phone call from the Nevada Veterans Affair started a chain reaction of memories for Walker Lake resident, Ben Miller.
Miller, a former United States Marine, lived in Death Valley when he enlisted into the service during the height of the Vietnam War.
Unknown to Miller at that time, he would be a part of history as he was enlisted with Marines who had enlisted in the Las Vegas and Reno recruitment offices to become the first Nevada All-State Governor’s Platoon #2067.
“I went in to join the Navy, but he wasn’t there that day, so I went across the hall to the Marine Corps recruiter just to talk with him,” Miller explained. “Guess what? He talked me into serving for four years and that was it. I was supposed to be air wing but I ended up in an infantry platoon because they wanted all of us from Nevada.”
The formation of an all Nevada Marine Corps platoon drew slight coverage but as Miller stated, “It didn’t mean much to us at the time because we are going to war.”
Miller can recall, in detail, his first experience with the Marines. “We got onto a bus, a Marine Corps bus, and the guys are just as friendly and nice as can be. “ Miller thought to himself, “This ain’t too bad.” The bus then rolled through the gates of MCRD (Marine Corps Recruit Depot). “Those guys must have jumped out the window because they turned and literally threw us off the bus and told us to get on these yellow footprints. Well there had been thousands of guys across those footprints and they were kind of vague so we are milling around and they started whoopin’ on us. Literally, beating and hitting us and we got in line.” Boot camp for Miller started at those yellow footprints.
Miller, who had his sights set on being an air winger after signing up for a four year stint, recalls that he didn’t want to be a “ground pounder infantry”.
Through boot camp Miller kept thinking “this is a mistake – why am I doing this? It should be different for me.” Questioning the actions of his superiors, the young Marine did not question – he just did.
The night before he graduated from boot camp, he learned that he was going to be a bb-stacker. He would be responsible for bomb, rockets and guns on an aircraft through his four years in Vietnam.
Miller fondly recalls the slogan of “Join the service – learn a trade”. The slogan stuck with Miller after 1972 except the airline back home didn’t need bomb loaders, so he went into the field of explosives in the mining field.
Like many Vietnam Veterans, being around people after coming home was uncomfortable, so mining worked for Miller – a career he would later retire from.
The phone call from only weeks ago from the Veterans Affair, opened up memories for Miller. Nevada wanted to get the platoon #2067 together, document the history from 1968 to today. Eighty-three Nevada Marines would start the historic journey together. Seventy-seven would graduate from the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, twenty would pass on after returning home with only one recorded death in Vietnam for the platoon but only seven Marines showed up to reunite.
At the presentation, certificates from Nevada delegates such as Congressman Mark Amodei, Senator Jacky Rosen and Senator Catherine Cortez-Masto would be presented to each of the seven Marines. Bundled within the certificates that he brings to the Independent-News, is a black and white photograph of Marine Corps Platoon #2067. On the second to the last row, extreme left stands Miller. Much has changed over 50 years but Miller jokingly states, “Look at the ears.”
“Look at you,” I exclaimed.
“That ain’t me anymore,” he would reply.
Miller proclaims that Mineral County is home to him now, “I love it here. This is home. I’m not going anywhere.”