A publication of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

April/May 2002

VVA Member of the Year

John Miner's Legacy 

BY BERNARD EDELMAN 

When they speak of John Miner, friends and colleagues toss about superlatives like confetti: Dedicated.  Committed. Single-minded. Driven. Selfless.  “His whole being,” says his friend Bill Cannavan, who succeeded John as president of VVA Chapter 601 in Bennington, Vermont, “is focused on making things better for vets.  Period.” 

Caring and concern for his fellow veterans will be John Miner's legacy.  Although the roots of his activism lie in the rice paddies of Vietnam, more than two decades elapsed before he found his voice as a veterans' champion.  After he came home in 1969 from his second tour, Miner, like so many others, tried to push his experiences to the far reaches of memory.  He worked in a Diehard battery factory, got married for a second time, raised three kids.  He smoked too many cigarettes, spent too many weekends with a bottle, “getting pretty well lit up,” as he puts it.   

Throughout this time, he didn't think about Vietnam--not consciously, at least. Then, during the Gulf War, he found himself riveted to the TV. The ghostly green video of tracers streaking toward the muted lights of Baghdad reminded Miner of the light shows put on by Puff the Magic Dragon. These images opened the spigot, and memories gushed forth. Out of a newly found consciousness emerged an activist, honored as VVA's 2001 Member of the Year at the National Convention in Greensboro. 

John Miner, who is now 54, was 18 when he joined the Army. Enlisting “was the right thing for me to do,” he said in a telephone interview. “I wanted to prove myself.” 

He signed up for administration and went to clerk school for AIT. Armed with a top-secret clearance, he arrived in Vietnam in December 1966. He spent his first tour working in the not-unpleasant confines of the MACV compound in Saigon.   

His year ended. He received orders sending him to 3rd Special Forces Group at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. It wasn't long before Miner came to realize that he didn't deal real well with stateside duty. 

“Being a leg in an airborne outfit was no fun at all,” he said. Antiwar riots - “things I couldn't understand”  were going on in the nation's capital. Even though he had taken the plunge and married, he welcomed orders that sent him back to his old unit. 

When he returned, however, he found a different dynamic. He and his new CO did not get along. After four months, Miner joined an advisory team in the Delta.  Duty there, with the Advisory Team 84 based at Cao Long, 65 miles southwest of Can Tho, was not onerous.  

There were firefights and a brush with death by drowning. Although he considers himself fortunate - “I would never compare myself to a combat veteran,” he insists--Spec5 Miner spent much of his tour “half-crocked and scared out of my tree.” As soon as he heard an incoming round, he'd make a mad dash for the nearest bunker--even after 18 months in country. His buddies calmed him down. 

“ ‘Learn to take one day at a time,’ they told me,’ he said. “And from them I learned to do the best I could each day, no matter how difficult things got. From them I learned to keep looking to tomorrow.” 

Back in The World, too many of Miner's tomorrows were tough--tougher than anything he'd handled in Vietnam. His youngest son was beset by numerous medical problems, which took a toll on John's psyche as well as his finances. And the war had affected him more than he knew. 

“I did all the things I had to do, but not all the things I should have done,” he said. “I owe my family a lot. I isolated them and they suffered. I didn't allow anyone else into my life. Even today,” he adds, despite the niche he has carved for himself in the community of veterans, “we still keep to ourselves.” 

However, Miner began to find his calling. In 1990, he started working in payroll and as an assistant in the personnel office at the 209-bed Vermont Veterans Home, the second oldest state veterans home in the nation (it dates back to 1884). He's now the veterans liaison and program coordinator there.     

When Chapter 601 was formed, Miner attended several early meetings. Joyce, his wife, accompanied him.  “At one meeting,” he remembers, “she picked up a brochure on PTSD and read it. “You've got 50 percent of the symptoms,” she told me.” 

He didn't dispute her.  

He dropped out of VVA, briefly, after the chapter received its charter in March of 1992. “We weren't doing anything,” Miner said. Within a year, though, he dropped back in, determined to make things happen. He ran for the presidency of the chapter. He won. 

His first project: Bring the Moving Wall to Bennington for two weeks. Despite the skepticism of several of his fellow veterans, Miner persisted and persevered. He made his case before civic and veterans associations. He didn't rest until 15 of them each guaranteed $2,000 toward the $30,000 needed to book the memorial. With the help of fellow chapter members and the Bennington community, his dream came true.

On August 28, 1994, the Moving Wall made its debut on Veterans Home property. The National Guard brought tents. Area businesses provided food and drink. Blocks of time were dedicated for a candlelight vigil, for those lost to the war and those still considered missing, for Gold Star parents. “It was a regular coming out,” John marvels. 

Over the past decade, John Miner's drive and efforts have ratcheted into high gear. After three years as chapter president, he began a stint as Vermont State Council President in the fall of 1996 while remaining chapter treasurer. In the spring of 1999 he became director of Region 1, with a seat on VVA's National Board of Directors. 

He helped start a fund to aid needy and homeless veterans. He made the case that VVA should have a veterans benefits program; there are now two service officers for VVA's seven chapters in Vermont. He lobbied the VA to open a clinic in Bennington; today there's a clean, new facility there that serves 1,500 vets a month.   

Miner is very proud to have been involved in the flagpole project at the Vermont Veterans Home. A fund-raising effort secured the $19,000 needed to install 55 poles--for each state and branch of the military--that now flank the entrance driveway. Miner said his friend Bill Cannavan “went out and helped raise the funds. Bill is my right-hand man.” 

Thirty years after the Vermont Legislature authorized a Patriot's Medal for each Vermonter killed in the fighting in Southeast Asia, Miner prodded legislators to get the medal minted and awarded. And when the state considered shutting down the rest area on I-89 in Sharon, where the nation's first government-sanctioned Vietnam veterans memorial was located, John's voice led a chorus to a crescendo of indignation. The state reversed its course: The rest area is currently being refurbished as a welcome center that includes an arboretum and a mini-museum recognizing the Vietnam War service of Vermonters. It will be rededicated in October. 

John Miner's newest venture: to bring artifacts left at The Wall in Washington to Vermont schools as part of a month-long program to educate kids about the war and those who served. Chapter members and other Vermont veterans organizations are working to make this a success. “Now that,” John says, “that's going to be an awesome project.” 

The cumulative effect of these projects and efforts, Miner believes, is that Vietnam veterans “have regained a status that had eluded us” for far too long.  

And what of the family that Miner acknowledges has often played second fiddle to his family of veterans? “They know I served and served honorably,” Miner says.  “I can see it in their eyes that they're proud because of the awards I've been given and the work I've done. But as far as the war, they don't understand, because I've never elaborated on it. They are in the dark.”

Health issues have not slowed Miner down. In fact, said VVA National President Tom Corey, “staying active and committed to the issues, by continuing to be a real veterans advocate, it's probably helping him cope with his medical problems.”

“I'm giving back everything I can,” John Miner says simply.  “That's what I'm about. I don't like having my name in the headlines. I could never do any of these endeavors alone. It is the veterans and the need for healing and help for my fellow veterans that inspires me. I want recognition for the servicemen and servicewomen, not me. Their smiles are all the recognition I need.”

   


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