Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Miller, 30 years old at the time, was on active duty in the Navy, stationed as a pharmacist on board the U.S.S. John F. Kennedy. The aircraft carrier was undergoing refitting in the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Virginia, when he made plans to go visit a friend in Norfolk. He hopped in his Chevy Vega and started down the road. Not five minutes into the trip, he noticed that an oncoming car traveling at high speeds wasn’t slowing down prior to the intersection. The hairs on the back of Miller’s neck stood on end as he quickly braced himself for the inevitable.
“I could see that the other driver wasn’t going to stop for the blinking red light and sure enough, she slammed into me, spinning my car so hard that it was turned in the opposite direction,” recalls Miller, who amazingly sustained no injuries. The same could not be said for his Chevy Vega, which was totaled.
After filling out the police report, Miller accompanied the tow truck driver to a local body shop.
“The driver was lowering the car down off the wrecker when suddenly two young masked men in their mid-20s ambushed us,” Miller says. “They hollered, ‘Get down on the ground!’ and then proceeded to clean out our pockets.”
Neither Miller nor the tow truck driver resisted when they saw one of the men was aiming a 38-special revolver at their faces.
“I got a good look at the gun and immediately handed over everything I had,” Miller says. That included his Quartz watch, his keys to the ship’s pharmacy, a master key to all medical spaces on the U.S.S. John F. Kennedy and his wallet, which had cash, his driver’s license, credit cards and military ID.
Being wiped clean of all forms of identification proved to be Miller’s third disaster of the night as he had to find a way to prove he was the ship’s pharmacist, not a Soviet spy, to gain access to the ship. (Ultimately, his Division Officer personally identified and cleared him.)
“It was tricky because we were to be deployed to the Mediterranean in the next few days, and I had a lot of loose ends to tie up with the car and my identification prior to leaving,” Miller says. “Boy, that was a long night followed by a trying few days.”
Though Miller was single at the time, his wife of 33 years loves to have him recall the story for those who have never heard it.
“Honestly, my favorite time to share the details of that night is when I’m sitting with people who are complaining about what a rough day they’ve had,” Miller says. “I tell them, ‘Hey, I understand, but believe me, it could be worse.’”
Once they hear Miller’s wild and crazy tale, they tend to agree. Nevertheless, Miller recognizes that although that night was one of the worst days of his life, it was also one of the luckiest.
“I’m lucky to be alive because I could have been killed twice in a matter of two hours,” Miller says. “After that fateful October evening, all subsequent reunions have felt sweeter.”