The number of Port Alberni’s veterans of the First and Second World Wars, and campaigns such as the Korean or Vietnam wars, are dwindling. When we see these veterans in uniform, be they members who saw battle, supported their brethren or entered areas of conflict on peacekeeping missions, we see the way they are today: navy blue blazers, chests full of medals, faces lined with character.
Last year, freelance writer and photographer Sonja Drinkwater approached eight veterans of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 293 and asked them to share a photo from when they served with their respective military branch, as well as a description of their role. She then took a photograph of the veterans as they are now.
The project was so popular that she has approached six more veterans this year. They are all active members of the Legion. If you know of a Port Alberni veteran who deserves to be featured, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Roger Miller is a veteran of the Vietnam War and has made his home in the Alberni Valley since 1974. He left the United States Navy as a PO2 electricians mate.
Miller was born in Burlington, Vermont and came from a family who served in the Army. His Dad Oliver fought in the Second World War and was in the second wave of D-Day on June 6, 1944. He had been enlisted for nine and a half years. Miller’s grandfather was in the army in the First World War.
“I enlisted when I was still in high school in 1969,” Roger Miller said. “I thought signing up would give me more options. I was sent to boot-camp just after my 19th birthday to Great Lakes, Illinois. It was so cold there.”
His next posting was to Keyport, Washington on the Kitsap Peninsula, where he was assigned to a torpedo retriever. They did the testing for fleet pick up after they were fired. “The torpedoes were not armed,” he said. “I was doing this job on the range in Nanoose Bay, one month on and one month off.”
Miller met Angie Tatoosh of Port Alberni while he was stationed in Nanaimo. “We met in September of 1971 and we were married on Feb. 21, 1972. We got married in the then St. Andrews United Church (now Bare Bones restaurant) by Rev. Roy Rogers,” Miller said.
“I had been training as a shipboard electrician in San Diego and that was where Angie and I started our married life.”
From San Diego Miller was sent to USS Schenectady, a Newport-class tank landing ship. He flew to the Philippines and caught the ship to Vietnam.
“We were in the Easter Offensive ’72 when we put 20,000 marines on the beach and many were slaughtered,” he recalled. “We were by the border of North Vietnam near Tiger Island and had shells flying overhead as we were five miles off the coast. That is when I received the combat action ribbon.
“I spent 10 months on ship and we went to Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and Singapore.”
Angie and Miller lived in East San Diego and their first son, Jody was born there in 1973. “Jody was only three weeks old when I went overseas again. Part of what we did was ferry marines from Vietnam to Okinawa.
“Sept. 26, 1974 I left the services and Angie, Jody and I drove straight through to Port Alberni.”
The Millers also have another son, Bill and a daughter Corie, both born in Port Alberni.
Miller went to work for Auto Marine Electric in Port Alberni from 1974-1978 and six months after he was laid off went to work at the pulp mill.
Miller makes it his mission to put Canadian flags throughout the Greenwood Cemetery on any stones that are not in the Field of Honour, wanting all veterans to be honoured. He also honours Michael Campbell, a former resident of Port Alberni who fought and lost his life in the Vietnam War. Campbell was originally from Nova Scotia and Miller promised Campbell’s mother that he would always visit him.