Mark Miller led a 4th Infantry Division squad in Vietnam for seven months in 1969-70. His men called themselves the Garbage Squad, adopting the nickname Miller had earned as a collegiate basketball player who excelled at rebounding. The squad had one strategy, Miller says: “We just wanted to stay alive.”
Based on a journal kept while in Vietnam, Miller recreates his war experience with the help of Brooke Miller Hall in My Confessions from Vietnam (CreateSpace, 123 pp., $5.80, paper). Inducted into the Army shortly after graduating from college, Miller opted to attend NCO school to delay going to Vietnam. It appeared to him that the war would soon end. It didn’t, and he went to Vietnam as an E-5.
Miller definitely lacked a desire to lead. “I never wanted to be in the Army in the first place,” he says. Sixteen years of Catholic-oriented education had taught him to love other people, and he believed that killing was a sin. “I certainly didn’t want the responsibility for the lives of the guys in my squad,” he says.
A willing student, Miller easily bonded with his men, most of whom were fellow draftees. Initially, as a leader, he constantly feared for his life. After surviving his first sapper attack, he writes, he “couldn’t stop shaking. I’d never been so scared in my life.” The experienced grunts taught him how to control fear. After three weeks in the field, he says, he felt “like a seasoned veteran.”
Defending themselves against what they considered unreasonable orders, Miller and his men sometimes chose to hide from the enemy rather than go out to search and destroy. Those tactics required them to outwit their platoon sergeant and company commander—and occasionally backfired. Nevertheless, all of Miller’s squad members survived combat under his leadership.
Miller, a life member of Vietnam Veterans of America, briefly talks about subjects mentioned in most Vietnam memoirs: helicopter airlifts, rain, malaria pills, C rations, punji sticks, R&R, and Kit Carson scouts.
At the age of seventy, Miller broke a personal vow of silence and summarized his wartime experiences. As he puts it:
“I never talked about my year in Vietnam. How could I explain to people what it was like? This was not a war I had chosen. I felt I had been a disgrace as a soldier: I had disobeyed orders, given false reports, gotten malaria on purpose, gotten a rear-area job because a friend found a way around the system, and had gotten a medal for killing a woman and a child. I would feel guilt for the rest of my life.”
That’s some confession, that confession by Mark Miller. I admire his honesty.
The author’s website is confessionsofsergeantgarbage.com