By SOF Editor on Tue, 12/08/2009 - 11:09am
Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Jerry Beckett said a final farewell to his former commander and lifelong friend, retired Col. Lewis Millett, along with more than 300 other veterans, family members, servicemen and women and friends at the Riverside National Cemetery on Saturday.
"Yesterday in a faraway land, I was introduced to a man of bold stature, a bigger than life man, a colonel in whose eyes and face reflected stories of a warrior who had fought in three wars," Beckett, who served with Millett in the Vietnam War, began.
It was an honor to cross paths and walk side-by-side Millett, Beckett said.
"Yesterday I was on a slick being inserted by the colonel to do my part in this war," he said. "Yesterday when my death was imminent he swooped down on a chopper and snatched me from the jaws of death."
Even in retirement Millett would call upon him to accompany him to Washington, D.C. and other places, he said of the man he knew for more than 40 years.
"Yesterday I lost a friend, a mentor, a man whose life went well beyond being called an American," Beckett said. "Yesterday America lost a part of its greatness."
Beckett wasn't the only person impacted by Millett's life as California Gov. Arnold Schwarzeneger wrote a letter to Millett's son, Lewis Lee Jr., which was read by California Secretary of Veterans Affairs retired Maj. Gen. Roger Brautigan.
"Someone explained to me a little about his experience in the Army, but the blue ribbon around his neck said all I need to know," the governor said in his letter. "Lewis Millett was very simply as good as they come, and as much as he might have complimented me, it was truly my honor to meet him."
The governor and Millett met again about a month ago at Twenty-Nine Palms, when the state created Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day, the governor continued in his letter, as he recalled the playing of the national anthem during that event.
"I noticed someone moving around behind the rank of TV cameras, followed by a little commotion. When I heard the story later, it all made sense," the governor wrote. "It seems that everyone in the crowd stood up during the song, everyone that is, except for one young journalist who remained sitting behind the cameras. Your father slowly made his way over to the reporter on his cane and with great force used the cane to jab the reporter in his side. 'Get up!" he said with a scowl. Even then, your father served."
During the ceremony, Millet's son, Lee shared the words of his father, after his youngest son, Staff Sgt. John Millett died in 1985 when a plane carrying peace-keeping forces crashed in Newfoundland.
"This is dedicated to him, but it speaks a lot about what my father's life is all about," Lee said as he read the Soldier's Prayer.
As the rifle squad from the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, assigned to Fort Irwin, Calif., fired a 21-gun salute to pay final honors to Millett, Beckett's closing words echoed in the stillness of the moment.
"Today I can say go forth, Sir. You have earned your place in glory. Go forth and please reserve a place in your formation for me," Beckett said. "Go forth, Sir and Soldier forever and forever. You are now in the Lord's army."
Millett received the Medal of Honor for leading the famed bayonet charge on Hill 180 near Saom-Ni, Korea on Feb. 7, 1951.
Millett was born in Mechanic Falls, Maine, in 1920 and enlisted in the Canadian Army at the onset of World War II before transferring to the U.S. Army in 1942, where he was awarded a Silver Star for his valorous conduct in Tunisia.
During the Korean War Millett served as the commander of Company E, 27th Infantry Regiment, where he led the first of two bayonet charges, receiving both the Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Service Cross for those efforts in February 1951.