It’s difficult to pin down a single phrase to describe the late Gerald “Jerry” A. Miller. Hard working, family man, party animal, singer, daredevil. So perhaps it’s best to go with all of the above.
His daughter Linda Miller knows he’s been ‘need for speed guy’ for almost his entire life.
“He wanted to be a pilot when he was real little, probably (age) five,” Miller said.
Jerry Miller graduated with the Class of 1953 from Neligh High School and after attending Norfolk Junior College for one year he wasted no time fulfilling his dream, joining the United States Air Force to be a pilot.
Upon completing basic training he was assigned to fighter and gunnery school. He received his commission in 1956 at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona.
On May 31, 1956, Jerry married his high school sweetheart Joan Bennett (also a Neligh High School alumni) at Luke Air Force Base. From this union four children were born: Steven, David, Lisa, and Linda.
Jerry’s first assignment was at Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter, South Carolina. There he served with the combat ready fighter reconnaissance squadron. This status sent him to many different places around the world.
Two of the primary campaigns in which he served were Lebanon and Vietnam. While in Vietnam, he completed over 100 reconnaissance missions over the enemy territory of North Vietnam.
Jerry’s expertise as a reconnaissance pilot prompted him to be cross-trained as a Flight Quality Control Officer. The knowledge and experience in all three areas made him quite valuable to the military.
His daughter recalled fellow pilots saying how many times he saved their lives.
“When the pilots were on call to fly, half the time they would be sitting there waiting,” she said. “He would get out his guitar and sing which calmed them so they weren’t all up-tight. They just thought the world of that.”
A couple of Jerry’s favorite airplanes were the 101 “Voodoo” and F-4 “Phantom”. Throughout his Air Force career, Jerry earned many medals and awards including the Distinguished Flying Cross with Two Oak Leaf Clusters, Presidential Unit Citation, Air Medal with seven Oak Leaf Clusters, Vietnam Service Medal with Four Campaign Stars, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, Bronze Star Medal and National Defense Service Medal.
In 1974 Jerry received his honorable discharge and retired with the rank of Major from the United States Air Force. Outside of his military commitments, he coached his squadron maintenance football team and little league baseball in Taiwan and South Carolina.
While in South Carolina, he also drove a stock car, satisfying that daredevil moniker. Linda Miller recalled in one race he was pushed off the side of the track down a steep bank, not visible to the crowd as flames started creeping up above the horizon.
He had a fire extinguisher in his car to put out the flame himself.
“He came running up over the edge and everyone started clapping,” Miller said.
Miller also had a soft side, along with his party animal side.
“He would sing my sister and I a couple of songs before we went to bed.” Linda Miller said.
Linda remembers sneaking downstairs with her sister Lisa to hear the songs only the adults were supposed to hear.
“Dad liked to sing a good dirty song.” She said.
He began a second career by attending helicopter pilot training with the intent of returning to Neligh to join Farmers Coop where he helped form the helicopter spraying department.
In 1982, Jerry kept the helicopter spraying business going by purchasing the helicopter and formed C&M Inc. Ag Services.
In 1986, Jerry started his third career. He and his wife went to Bismarck, North Dakota after he had accepted the position of lead pilot for the Bismarck Hospital Helicopter EMS Service.
Jerry finally retired in 1997 and returned to Neligh where he and his wife provided daycare for a couple of their grandchildren two days a week.
His daughter’s fondest memory of her Dad was how he was with his grandchildren.
Jerry Helping her son Connor, at 3 or 4, refill the riding lawnmower that Connor had run to empty. Her dad holding a gas can, holding Connor’s hand as the went to fill the mower.
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