In Army circles, Medal of Honor recipient Lewis Millett is a legend. The former Idyllwild resident could have become another “Sergeant York” in public’s eye if Gary Cooper had also starred in “Captain Millett.”
York has a movie. Millett, to my happy surprise on Saturday, stars in a historical diorama at the National Infantry Museum in Columbus, Ga.
Visitors to the museum – located near Fort Benning, where the US Army trains its infantry soldiers – get three floors of infantry history and exploits. The main hall features historic figures storming the ramparts at Yorktown, scaling the cliffs of Normandy and leaping off helicopters in Vietnam.
The museum proved to be a great day trip from Fort Rucker, Ala., where I am undergoing my annual US Army Reserve training.
I had the privilege of interviewing Millett several times in the early 2000s when I was I a reporter with The Press-Enterprise. (I once mistakenly referred to him as “winning” the Medal of Honor in one article. I got numerous and snarky e-mails from all over the country informing me that Millett had “earned” his medal.) Millett died in 2009 and I never did interview him in person.
But I did get to benefit from Millett’s wisdom in 1985 when I got to attend the “Reconnaissance-Commando” school, which Millett helped to found, when I was a young GI.
That 15-day school on Fort Bragg, N.C., included killing a chicken for food, ruck-sack runs for discipline, hand-to-hand combat for survival and a three-day patrol for graduation. I averaged four hours of sleep. It helped being 20 at the time. At 47, I can’t even get my mind to do all the things I did then as a young paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division.
The diorama features Millett charging up a frozen hill in Korea on Feb. 7, 1951, and bayoneting a communist Chinese soldier. His attack so shocked the communist troops that they fled in disorder. Millett refused evacuation despite being wounded from grenade fragments until the hill was safely in American hands.
That shock-and-awe bayonet charge was a throw-back to some of the most vicious battles of the American Civil War. Millett is a genuine American hero whose life story can’t be told in a single diorama.
John Wayne should have landed the leading role in the “Lewis Millett” movie.