Five Lessons I Learned From a Wyoming War Hero
Last night, Wyoming war hero Jerry Miles was awarded the Republic of Korea Ambassador for Peace Medal.
It's the latest in a long line of honors for the Cheyenne native, who also has a Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his service in the United States Navy and Coast Guard.
After the ceremony, Miles smiled and jokingly asked, "who's buying the beer?"
I was lucky enough to join Jerry and a few family members for that celebratory beer and this is what I learned.
Lesson #1: Sometimes You Need a Swift Kick in the Butt - Miles was a football player and a record setting swimmer at Cheyenne High School in the early '50s. On the gridiron, his legendary coach Okie Blanchard demanded disclipline.
"If you weren't in the proper stance, Okie would come up behind you and kick you right in the butt," Miles recalled.
It's that kind of toughness that prepared Miles, and many of his classmates, for military service after high school.
Lesson #2: Real Heroes Come From All Walks of Life - Miles recieved his Bronze Star for an incident where he relied more on instinct than planning. While steering a ship through a narrow bay covered in mines, he could have turned around and forced his men to swim.
Instead, he took on enemy fire, and dropped his men off at the shore. After abandoning ship and taking cover on the beach, he encountered an attacker with a bayonet. Luckily, a Marine came to his rescue and saved his life that day.
Lesson #3: There's No Place Like Home - By the age of 21, Miles had travelled all around the world. For over a decade, he lived in Hawaii. And while he considers New Zealand to be his favorite place, Wyoming will always be home. "A lot of us left," Miles said, "but eventually, everybody came back."
Lesson #4: Some Souvenirs are Priceless - One of Jerry's favorite memories dates back to 1957, when the USS Philippine Sea was docked near Long Beach, California.
At the time, legendary actor John Wayne was filming "The Wings of Eagles". Miles and his fellow officers were asked to be extras in the one of the movie's final scenes.
A couple days later, they were each given a check for $25, which they promptly spent in a poker game with Wayne's co-star, actor Ken Curtis.
"I should've held on to that check," Miles lamented.
Lesson #5: Honoring their Service Means More Than We Know - For a long time, Jerry didn't talk much about the things he witnessed 60 years ago. In recent years, Miles has opened up more about his experiences. As I sat across the dinner table and listened to his stories, it dawned on me how much this night meant to him. Hopefully, it meant as much to him as it did to me.