VVA Member of the Year
John Miner's Legacy
BY BERNARD EDELMAN
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
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
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.
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.”
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.
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
“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.
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
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
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.
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.”
didn't dispute her.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.”
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