John E. Miller

NO. 17909  •  7 Sep 1927 – 13 May 2003

Died in Fircrest WA
Ashes held by family


John Elbridge Miller was born in Fitchburg, MA, to Elbridge and Marion Miller He spent an idyllic childhood with his sister Shirley and brother Donald in the small towns of Waterbury and Montpelier, VT. John graduated from Montpelier High School, where he excelled in public speaking and won the Statewide Oratory Contest. He also loved acting and singing.

John reported to West Point in 1946 and managed to survive Plebe year. He sent many letters home describing cadet life, letters his family preserved. One of his memories was of arriving late at the Army Navy Game. With spectators cheering him on, he raced around the stadium in full-dress coat, arriving just as his company marched onto the field. He walked the area a long time for that one. At West Point, John sang in the Cadet Glee Club, performing for President Harry S. Truman and meeting his daughter Margaret. He also sang in a barbershop quartet, beginning his Iife long passion for four part harmony. Roommate Clark Martin remarked that no one could believe that such a booming bass voice could come from someone so slight.

John was commissioned in the Coast Artillery (which became Air Defense Artillery) and was assigned to Okinawa as a platoon leader in the 97th Anti Aircraft Artillery group. He later served as the battery executive officer for two years. According to classmate D.S. Wilson, John, D.S., and classmate Stan Prouty were like the Three Musketeers and became lifelong friends. During this time, John, Stan, Lake Churchill '48, and another singer formed a barbershop quartet!

Returning to the States, John commanded a battery near Washington, DC. He was next assigned to Ft Bliss, TX, to attend guided missile staff officers school. He remained for three years, teaching Nike Air Defense System maintenance. In Texas he met the love of his life, Barbara Winter. They married in 1954, and two daughters were born in rapid succession: Katherine in 1955 and Deborah in 1956.

In 1957, the family moved to Ft. Sill, OK, for the advanced Artillery officers school, and then to Philadelphia, PA, where John was the staff guided missile officer. During that tour, the headquarters moved to Pedricktown, NJ; hence, the next two Miller babies were born in separate towns John, Jr., in Swarthmore, PA, and Sharon in Pedricktown, NJ. In 1961, when Barbara was expecting baby number five, John received orders for Viet Nam. The family moved back to El Paso, TX, where Barbara’s family lived, and ten days after baby Jean arrived, John left for Viet Nam. Their oldest child was only six! Barbara and the family remained in El Paso while John served in Viet Nam for a year as combat advisor to the South Vietnamese 2nd Infantry Division Artillery. He was in charge of planning & training and combat operations.

Fortunately, John was then assigned to Ft. Bliss, where for three years he worked in the Nike Hercules guided missile program. In 1965, he began a three year tour in Germany, where, again, the family moved three times from Stuttgart to Heidelberg to Wurzburg. In Germany, John was chief of the air defense section of Headquarters, U.S. Army, Europe. Subsequently, he was executive officer of an Air Defense group and then served as group commander. For his services in Europe, he received the Army Commendation Medal.

Returning to CONUS, John was assigned to the North American Air Defense Command, known as "NORAD” , based just north of San Francisco. True to form, that headquarters soon closed, and John was assigned to McChord AFB, WA, in the same command. There he received the Meritorious Service Medal.

In January 1971, John, as a 43 year old lieutenant colonel, suffered a major heart attack. He survived but decided to retire from the service. The family bought a home near Tacoma, WA, and John attended the University of Puget Sound, earning a bachelor's (1973) and master's degree (1974) in accounting. His degrees were conferred the same two years his two eldest daughters graduated from high school! John then went to work for the State Auditor in Olympia but left that organization to establish his own accounting business.

John rekindled his love affair with barbershop harmony, singing in a Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Singing in America District Championship Quartet: The Commencement Bay Flounders and Seafood Conspiracy. Following the demise of the quartet, he went into acting, even appearing as a featured extra on an episode of the television show Northern Exposure. John and Barbara participated in community theater productions of On Golden Pond, The Gin Game, and many others. John’s favorite musical roles were Alfred P Doolittle in My Fair Lady and Captain Andy in Showboat.

In 1988, John suffered a second heart attack, followed by open heart surgery. Using his usual determination, he soon recovered, still busy and optimistic. In 1990, while auditioning for a play, he suffered a full cardiac arrest. Later he would muse that not only did he not get the part, but he was not even cast as the dead body, a part for which he had had EXPERIENCE' 'The following years were spent in and out of the hospital, but John still remained very active in theater and in barbershopping. In March 2003, John’s weakened heart finally began to fail, followed by end-stage renal failure. He exited "stage left” on 13 May, leaving behind his wife of 49 years, five children, and five grandchildren.

John was beloved by all and was a truly honorable man. He was a courageous man, cheerful and optimistic despite health problems and surgeries. Even in retirement, John lived the concept of "Duty, Honor, Country." We were so blessed to have had him, and he is sorely missed. Now he is truly our butterfly and lives on in our hearts. Well done, John; be thou at peace.

- Wife Barbara and Classmates