Memorial Day hero: SSgt Robert J. Miller, US Army; Update: "Ask me about my son's sacrifice"

There are many heroes we celebrate on Memorial Day who gave their last full measure of devotion for our country and for our liberty.  Staff Sergeant Robert J. Miller, US Army, saved 22 of his comrades through his extraordinary courage and sacrifice in Konar Province, Afghanistan, on 25 January 2008.  This is his story, as reported in his Medal of Honor citation:

While conducting a combat reconnaissance patrol through the Gowardesh Valley, Staff Sergeant Miller and his small element of U.S. and Afghan National Army soldiers engaged a force of 15 to 20 insurgents occupying prepared fighting positions. Staff Sergeant Miller initiated the assault by engaging the enemy positions with his vehicle’s turret-mounted Mark-19 40 millimeter automatic grenade launcher while simultaneously providing detailed descriptions of the enemy positions to his command, enabling effective, accurate close air support. Following the engagement, Staff Sergeant Miller led a small squad forward to conduct a battle damage assessment.

As the group neared the small, steep, narrow valley that the enemy had inhabited, a large, well-coordinated insurgent force initiated a near ambush, assaulting from elevated positions with ample cover. Exposed and with little available cover, the patrol was totally vulnerable to enemy rocket propelled grenades and automatic weapon fire. As point man, Staff Sergeant Miller was at the front of the patrol, cut off from supporting elements, and less than 20 meters from enemy forces.

Nonetheless, with total disregard for his own safety, he called for his men to quickly move back to covered positions as he charged the enemy over exposed ground and under overwhelming enemy fire in order to provide protective fire for his team. While maneuvering to engage the enemy, Staff Sergeant Miller was shot in his upper torso. Ignoring the wound, he continued to push the fight, moving to draw fire from over one hundred enemy fighters upon himself. He then again charged forward through an open area in order to allow his teammates to safely reach cover. After killing at least 10 insurgents, wounding dozens more, and repeatedly exposing himself to withering enemy fire while moving from position to position, Staff Sergeant Miller was mortally wounded by enemy fire.

His extraordinary valor ultimately saved the lives of seven members of his own team and 15 Afghanistan National Army soldiers. Staff Sergeant Miller’s heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty, and at the cost of his own life, are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Army.

On Veterans Day — and every other day of the year — we thank our veterans and our active-duty men and women for their service to our country.  On Memorial Day, we keep the families of those who gave their all for our freedom in our prayers.  There are many others whose stories never make it into newspapers and websites who now rest here and in foreign lands, and many more family members who love and miss them.  Please keep all of them in your prayers today.

Update: Via Andy at Ace’s place, here’s a Fox report from 2006 on how the military honors the fallen on Memorial Day. It’s well worth your time (via Twitter follower TN4P):

Update II: Coincidentally, the New York Post has a column written by SSgt. Miller’s mother for this Memorial Day weekend:

Three years ago, we replaced our original Blue Star banner with a Gold Star one, indicating an immediate family member who’d died in the service of this nation. My husband and I also wear Gold Star lapel pins, presented to each of us (as well as to our seven surviving children) at Rob’s funeral.

With some 5,500 soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen killed in action since 2001, the number of Gold Star families may seem small. To that total, however, America must add the parents, husbands, wives, siblings and children of those who lost loved ones in Vietnam and previous wars.

Wars may recede from the front pages to the history books, but no matter how far back the loss, the ache of a Gold Star family never goes away.

Unfortunately, people seem afraid of the best way to honor our fallen — simply asking the family to share their story. In our case, the knowledge that Rob acted with extraordinary heroism in his final minutes helped tremendously in easing our grief. Yet a misguided sensitivity about our loss seems to leave people afraid to even bring it up.

If only they knew the comfort that a polite inquiry could bring.

I chose the story of SSgt. Miller because it was among the most recent and perhaps not as recounted as some of the other MoH recipients.  Now, it seems like a choice that had more than chance behind it.  Please read all of Mauren Miller’s column.