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In Paso, a grateful community

Lance Cpl. Charles "Dillon" Miller, left, his mother, Lynette, and his father, Charlie Sr. attend a ceremony honoring Miller's service in Afghanistan. Paso Robles welcomed home Miller on Thursday, after he was wounded in a firefight in Afghanistan.
Lance Cpl. Charles "Dillon" Miller, left, his mother, Lynette, and his father, Charlie Sr. attend a ceremony honoring Miller's service in Afghanistan. Paso Robles welcomed home Miller on Thursday, after he was wounded in a firefight in Afghanistan. jmellom@thetribunenews.com

Lance Cpl. Charles “Dillon” Miller doesn’t like being in the spotlight. The 21-year-old wounded Marine said it seems out of place for him to receive honors when so many others are still fighting overseas.

“I just want to be back with my platoon again. (We) will do anything for each other.”

Miller, a 2007 graduate of Paso Robles High School, was forced to leave his platoon May 15 when he was shot in the chest in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. He had been serving on his first deployment there since early April.

On Thursday, Miller found himself surrounded by several hundred cheering people in Paso Robles Downtown City Park at a ceremony honoring him during his two-week leave in his hometown.

The son of Cal Fire equipment operator Charlie Miller Sr. was celebrated under the shade of an oversized Stars and Stripes that hung from the towering ladder of a fire truck.

The Marine spent the past month recovering at Naval Medical Center in San Diego. He returned home to Paso Robles last week.

On May 15, his unit — from the “Thundering Third,” or the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines, out of Twentynine Palms — had stopped to rest near the Helmand River near the city of Sangin when a firefight broke out.

“As he was firing his weapon, he looked down at his right side and saw the fabric of his uniform and armor was torn,” Cal Fire Chief Robert Lewin said in his speech.

Miller saw the blood. His arm went numb.

He crawled to safety with the help of his team leader.

“A deafening RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) round exploded near them,” Lewin said as his story of Miller’s experience stilled the crowd.

He was rushed to an aid station as his unit continued fighting, Lewin said.

Miller was the only one injured that day. Since he left his unit, there has been one death and numerous injuries.

“Today we are one people united together to say thank you,” Lewin said to the crowd.

Charlie Miller Sr. received the call that his son was hurt at 7 a.m. on a Sunday morning.

About an hour later, his son called.

“It was a flood of relief to hear his voice,” the father said, pausing to clear tears from his eyes. “He said, ‘Dad, I’m good to go. I need to be back out there.’ It’s clear he misses them immensely.”

After his leave, Dillon Miller will head back to the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms to await another deployment.

This weekend, he looks forward to family, Lake San Antonio and “lots of ice” — a luxury his dad said his son missed while trudging through the hot, dry deserts of Afghanistan.

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