HIGHLAND | As a military policeman in the early 1950s in Fort Bragg, N.C., Vernon C. Miller was a model soldier.
A model for what not to do, that is.
Local police from nearby Fayetteville had “quite a few incidents” with disorderly soldiers from the Army base, and MPs put together a photographic instructional program, Miller said, warning GIs about the consequences of disreputable conduct.
“The Army wanted to protect its soldiers,” Miller noted, “and the city wanted the Army to take care of its troublemakers.”
Miller became a “poster boy” for the armored infantry. The posters the MPs created featured him as a miscreant dressed in various uniforms. The posters were displayed on barrack doors in hope they would be a reminder that unruly behavior from anyone wouldn’t be tolerated.
Miller, who once had a run-in with a burly brawler who “picked me up like I was a peanut” while walking a beat, was indebted to Fayetteville police for their help in subduing his adversary.
It was not the kind of combat he had envisioned.
Drafted during the Korean War, Miller had answered Uncle Sam's call despite suffering third-degree burns to his right leg in a workplace accident at a Hookstown, Pa., gas station. The leg hadn't fully healed by the time he reported to the induction center in Pittsburgh.
It still wasn't healed after 16 weeks of basic training at Fort Campbell, another 16 weeks of military police training at Fort Bragg and advanced MP training at Camp Gordon, Ga. Miller had volunteered to go to Korea, but his executive officer had other plans for him.
He dispatched him to the 504th Military Police battalion in Versailles, France, based at Napoleon’s Stables, where Miller patrolled the Supreme Allied Powers of Europe headquarters. He stood watch outside generals’ offices and followed cleaning crews and maids for any signs of espionage.
He found none, but the assignment did allow him to catch glimpses of soon-to-be President Dwight Eisenhower and first lady Mamie when they were housed in Versailles. He shared a drink with Burt Lancaster and Gina Lollobrigida when they took a break from filming “Trapeze” in Paris, and he learned fencing in his spare time.
It was a far cry from his “unfortunate situation” in Fort Campbell, where the paratroopers and rangers the MPs trained with derisively referred to them as straight legs.
“They put us through the mill there,” Miler recalled. “I mean, they were rough.”
Later, when the adjutant general caught wind of the harsh treatment they had received, there were some demotions, he said.
Despite that ordeal, Miller views military training or some community service as something every youth should experience. He feels if Selective Service, the old Civilian Conservation Corps or the Works Progress Administration were restored, there would be fewer gang-bangers.
“I think it would be great if the draft system should return,” said the Highland resident, 83. “It would teach them (young people) more than some parents do today. They would be in better exercise condition. I think they would be in better diet condition. They would show respect for the American flag. They would would show respect for people in general.”
Looking back, Miller confesses to mixed emotions about the Korean War and thinks many of our recent wars “have been motivated by enterprises for monetary gain.”
In all, Miller spent four years and four months in the Army, having re-enlisted at one point to give his leg time to properly heal.
Upon returning home, you might say he became a poster boy for the good life. He has been retired from Amoco Oil in Whiting since 1990 and will celebrate his 57th wedding anniversary with his wife, Judy, in December.