A 21-year-old Spokane Valley soldier was remembered Wednesday as someone who saw life as a challenge that he always rose to meet.
In a church service where the red, white and blue of American flags mixed with the green of Christmas trees and wreaths, Spc. Harley Miller was eulogized as a person who would do anything for a friend, put a smile on anyone’s face, and believed deeply in his country.
“He did what he believed was right, giving his life for the freedoms that we have as Americans,” his uncle, Jeff Miller, said during a funeral service at Valley Point Baptist Church.
Miller, a helicopter mechanic with the Army’s 4th Cavalry Regiment, died Nov. 27 when a plane in which he was a passenger crashed in the remote mountains in northwest Afghanistan. Miller, two other soldiers from his unit and three civilians were en route to a remote military base.
Born in Sandpoint and raised in the Spokane area, Miller joined the Army in 2002, shortly after receiving his high school diploma from West Valley’s Contract Based Education program. He was a skilled mechanic who as a teenager took on the challenges of cars that everyone else said were hopeless causes, and made them work. The Army trained him to maintain its Kiowa helicopters, and eventually assigned him to an air cavalry unit based in Hawaii. The unit was sent to Afghanistan in the spring.
In 2003, he married Sarah Ackerman, whom he had known since junior high school. They have a son, Korey, who is nearly 18 months old. A slide show prepared for the funeral service showed Miller at his son’s birth, holding him at his first Christmas and playing together on the beach.
Pastor Barry Foster told the crowd of more than 100 family and friends that for Miller and other members of the military, being a soldier is not what they do, it’s who they are.
“A good soldier cannot afford the luxury of looking back,” Foster said. “You need to be thoroughly convinced of your cause.”
With the pride of seeing soldiers marching in a parade or hearing of their victories in war, there is also the sadness of hearing of a soldier dying in battle, Foster said. Miller’s death is an opportunity for his family and friends to honor others still serving in Afghanistan, Iraq or around the world.
Miller’s funeral is not an isolated event in Spokane, but a small piece of the larger American sacrifice, Foster said.
“We must reach out and embrace the coffins yet to come, the coffins that have already come, and the coffins being wept over and grieved over around the country,” Foster said.
Later at Pines Cemetery, an honor guard escorted Miller’s flag-draped coffin to a spot where his family and friends had gathered. After a series of rifle volleys and a playing of taps, Miller was awarded a posthumous Bronze Star for his service in Afghanistan, and the flag on his coffin was folded and presented to his 20-year-old widow.
Foster urged those in the church to remember Miller by not taking their freedoms for granted: “His life was given as a sacrifice … so we could live lives as Americans.”