There was loud applause earlier this month at a homecoming celebration for Pleasanton Marine Andy Bowen and also for Chris Miller, Pleasanton's long-time unofficial ambassador to local military and their families who has been largely responsible for setting up these welcome home events.
As happy as we were to see Bowen come back safely to his family after seven months on assignments in the Middle East and African coastal waters aboard the USS New Orleans, there was surprise and sadness in Miller's announcement that he was stepping down as chairman of the Pleasanton Military Families support group. Miller, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Army who served in Vietnam and is now a Realtor in Pleasanton, first organized the group in 1991 when the first Gulf War occurred and with the help of Marine mom Alice Johnston.
A veteran of the early days of the Vietnam War, Miller later flew commercial helicopters out of San Francisco for 11 years. He regularly saw returning Vietnam War veterans as they came through SFO and also back to the Bay Area and saw them treated "awfully and with disrespect" by their fellow American citizens. At that time, he made a mental note that if American armed forces personnel were ever sent off to combat again, he would do all in his power to see that they were respected and comforted (including their families) while they were serving in harm's way and then to make sure that they were honored and appreciated when they came home again.
Together with Johnston, Miller formed and co-chaired the first Pleasanton Military Families Support Group. The organization held meetings Tuesday nights at Johnston's home and when the local troops came home, they welcomed them on the court where the Johnstons lived with cheering, flag-waving crowds Vietnam veterans never saw. Civic and city leaders joined in and Miller was given permission to post American flags and yellow streamers on Main Street light poles, with each streamer listing the name, rank and branch of service of someone in the military serving in the war zones. As a result of the organized and popular tributes, the entire Tri-Valley turned out for a welcome home parade in Hacienda Business Park when the Gulf War ended.
After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and with the Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (Iraq) wars under way, Miller started up the Pleasanton Military Families again in 2003 and it's been going ever since. It was tough at first as a large number from Pleasanton volunteered to serve, including many right out of high school, and the PMF took on increased responsibilities for maintaining contact with those in remote battlefields and their concerned families here at home. Miller led the meetings again every Tuesday night, helped as the months and years went on by returning veterans and their families who pitched in to share their feelings, comfort those with sons, daughters, husbands and wives still serving, packing kits filled with supplies needed by those in the field, sending letters and building new and what have become lifelong friendships.
At Miller's request, the Pleasanton Weekly began sending copies of the paper each week to the PMF's list of those serving in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan, which we continue to do free of charge.
Last December, Miller's wife Marty was diagnosed with kidney cancer and had surgery to remove the affected kidney on April 27 at the City of Hope Hospital in Duarte, Calif. She is now fully recovered and joined her husband to welcome home Andy Bowen and also to thank the military support group for its many messages of comfort during her challenging times.
Those times also gave Chris Miller a chance to reevaluate his role, with his decision to step down as chairman of the organization to spend more time with Marty and their children.
There's just one more commitment he's accepted: to update and add new streamers on Main Street before the coming winter winds and rain. The first batch of new ones went up in front of Gay '90s this week, with Chris Miller on the scene to help in the work.
For more information, email Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out Pat Frizzell's Pleasanton Military Families website at www.my.calendars.net/pmf.