When Duty Calls
Volume 143, Number 6, November/December 2009, Page 6–7
By Lena Anthony
In celebration of Veterans Day, meet two Daughters who have served their country in the field and from afar. Discover the different ways they have cared for and honored our nation’s warriors.
Seeing the World, Serving Wounded Warriors
Commander Barbara Ellen Miller’s entrance into the U.S. Navy isn’t your typical military enlistment story. It was 1961, and she was finishing her master’s thesis in nursing at the University of Maryland in Baltimore. Walking near the university, she saw a poster that read, “Join the Navy and see the world.”
“Most people don’t walk along the street and make a life-changing decision like that, but I decided it was for me and a good way to get the chance to serve my country and travel,” Cmdr. Miller says.
Her first duty assignment in 1962 didn’t take her overseas but to the Naval Regional Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Cmdr. Miller was assigned to the Sick Officers Quarters, where she took care of high-ranking officers such as Admiral Hyman Rickover, who is known as the father of the nuclear Navy, and Admiral Thomas Kinkaid, who commanded the U.S. Navy in the Pacific during World War II. She assisted doctors with annual physical exams for President John F. Kennedy, Sen. Ted Kennedy and Attorney General Robert Kennedy, and she also cared for then-Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson.
“I met some very nice dignitaries, and I learned a lot from them,” she says. “I had some very enlightening and eye-opening experiences there.”
Left: Cmdr. Miller in 1962.
Right: Cmdr. Miller (second from right) at her induction
into the Connecticut Veterans’ Hall of Fame.
Cmdr. Miller got her chance to travel in 1964, when she was assigned to the U.S. Naval Hospital in Yokosuka, Japan, where Marines wounded in Vietnam were being treated.
During her two-year assignment, Cmdr. Miller immersed herself in the culture by learning the language and religion, sampling the food and befriending locals. She even took road trips in the American car she brought with her from home. “I put about 8,000 miles on my car while I was there,” she says.
Most of the time while in Yokosuka, however, Cmdr. Miller was taking care of hundreds of wounded men. “I often wonder where they are,” she says. “I wish I could find my patients so I can know how they turned out. Unfortunately, I don’t remember their names. It was a long war, as it followed me to hospitals in San Diego and Philadelphia.”
One group of wounded servicemen she’ll never forget are the crew of 82 men who were held hostage for more than 11 months after their ship, the U.S.S. Pueblo, was captured by North Koreans in 1968. They were freed two days before Christmas, and Cmdr. Miller was one of three nurses selected to care for them at the Naval Hospital in San Diego.
“They arrived on Christmas Eve,” she recalls. “All of their family members were there, and it was decorated for Christmas. I don’t think they could believe they were home. It was a very emotional reunion for everyone.”
After retiring from the Navy in 1982, Cmdr. Miller continued to work in the nursing profession, finishing her career as an instructor at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital in New London, Conn. “I lost my voice because I was lecturing so much,” she says. “I was told I would never speak again if I didn’t stop lecturing, so I had to hang up my white coat. I had given my all to nursing and to the Navy, and it was always an honor to serve my profession and my country.”
To honor her lifetime of service, the state of Connecticut selected her to be inducted into the Connecticut Veterans’ Hall of Fame last year. Her fellow volunteers from the Retired Activities Office on the Naval Submarine Base in Groton nominated Cmdr. Miller, who is the first woman to be inducted into the hall of fame.
“When I got the call, I didn’t say anything,” she says. “I was completely overwhelmed and surprised.”
Congratulations came from her fellow DAR members as well. Cmdr. Miller, who is a member of the Melzingah Chapter, Beacon, N.Y., became a DAR member in 1952.
A Wartime Angel
Dorothy “Dottie” Busby Wainwright still recalls the moment she received a letter addressed to “Grandma Wainwright.” The letter wasn’t from a grandchild; it was from a 19-year-old soldier stationed in Iraq. She was a member of one of the many Army National Guard units that Mrs. Wainwright had “adopted” as Texas State Chairman of the DAR Project Patriot Committee and a member of Heritage Trails Chapter, Spring, Texas.
“It was so moving to get that letter,” she says. “She asked if I could bake her favorite cake—just for her. I did it, and it started a loving relationship.”
Mrs. Wainwright’s generosity has touched many others, including the boys and girls who have received the thousands of toys, school supplies, clothes and shoes she and her fellow DAR members have sent overseas the past three years. Dubbed Operation Wainwright, this DAR program provides supplies to Camp Bucca, Iraq, where they are distributed to local families. “It helps to build relationships and trust between our soldiers and the locals,” Mrs. Wainwright says. “After the first few shipments, the soldiers mentioned that rocket attacks had stopped, and there was no more loss of life in the area, which they attributed directly to the goodwill shown to these families. With these gifts, they know we care about them and that we Americans are humanitarians.”
Left: Dottie Wainwright
Right: Mrs. Wainwright (top left) and fellow DAR members
of the Star of Destiny and Heritage Trails chapters
pack boxes for DAR Project Patriot.
In one instance, Operation Wainwright helped connect an Iraqi baby with a life-threatening heart defect with much-needed medical care.
“I wrote and called many organizations in the United States, but got no good response,” Mrs. Wainwright explains. “Then, almost as a miracle, a message showed up in my e-mail, and a Jewish foundation in Tel Aviv wanted medical records and more information. Within 24 hours they replied that they had a pediatric cardiologist in Jordan who would take the baby’s case.”
Today, Operation Wainwright is still in full force and has expanded to Camp Taji, Iraq and Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan.
Many of the donations—and shipping costs—come directly from Mrs. Wainwright, but she says the reward is far greater than the cost. “I’ll never meet those children, but if I could, I would hug every one of them.”
While she’ll probably never come face-to-face with the children she has helped through Operation Wainwright, she has made lifelong friends out of the military men and women from around the country that she has supported through DAR Project Patriot.
“Some of them have visited me here, and I continue to support them as they redeploy or re-enter their civilian lives,” says Mrs. Wainwright, who even funded a scholarship and helped with college book expenses for one of the returning soldiers. “As civilians, they still need TLC.”
Lt. j.g. Kristen Wheeler delivering supplies to locals
near Camp Bucca, Iraq.
Mrs. Wainwright encourages others to reach out to deployed soldiers and their families, even if it’s just to say thank you. “A simple thank you is little to do,” she says. “Also, if you know of a family of a service man or woman, try to see that their needs are also being met. Happiness in their families at home relates to happiness for the troops far away.”
For all of her generosity, Mrs. Wainwright was awarded the Medal and Certificate of Meritorious Public Service from the U.S. Department of the Navy, which is one of the department’s highest medals. “They told me this medal was rarely presented to a civilian,” she says. “I was so shocked and humbled. I do what I do because it comes from the heart. I expect no glory, nor do I expect medals and awards. The love I receive from the troops is more reward than any one person should receive. After all, those troops are the ones putting their lives on the line to preserve our freedoms.”