Bird Island makes sure Kyle Miller will never be forgotten
By Carol Stender
BIRD ISLAND, Minn. — Connie Berg of Bird Island never knew Sgt. Kyle Miller but, thanks to her efforts, people will remember his military service to the country.
Berg led a community-wide campaign to honor the former resident who was killed in Iraq on June 19, 2006. The year long drive, including fundraisers and donations from area residents, garnered $1,600 for a memorial. The monument, erected in the town’s park, was dedicated during a Veteran’s Day program.
Miller’s story touched her heart, Berg said. She learned about him through his mother, Kathy. Kyle’s mother purchases her groceries from the Maynard’s Food Center managed by Berg’s husband, Steve. Kathy also buys cookies, lots of them, to send to soldiers stationed in Iraq.
"She never asked for the memorial," Berg said. "She just said it would be nice to have a flag in the park where he used to spend so much time as a child."
Berg sought to make that wish a reality. The Bird Island City Council approved Berg’s idea for a memorial to the fallen soldier. She sought quotes on flags and flagpoles, prices on granite stones and electrical wiring for lights to shine on the monument and flag.
Community leaders and residents joined Berg on the project. The Boys Scouts designed and planned the memorial, she said. Steven Jungers will receive his Eagle Scout badge for the project. Fellow Scouts Cody O’Halleran and Brian Lubitz helped.
John Desotell helped Berg find the right stone and engraving for part of the memorial. Al Lidbeck assisted with the flag and flagpoles and Jeff Engelman installed the monument’s lights.
Bird Island Lions members contributed $400 and the Maynard’s corporate headquarters in Elkton, S.D. donated $400 plus hot dogs, pop and chips for a fundraiser at the store.
Kathy Miller helped serve the meal. Many of the customers were area residents but one truck driver, driving a load through Bird Island along U.S. Highway 212, made a special stop at the store. He told Kathy he saw the sign for the hot dog meal and donations to the memorial. He was a veteran, he told her. He wanted to do his part to honor Kyle.
The Berg’s placed a donation box at the store’s main register. Miller’s picture was on it with an explanation of the memorial project. The couple didn’t expect many donations but were surprised when they counted $200 from the effort. The United Fund offered an additional $100.
"People were very responsive," Berg said. "I think the majority of people saw it as a worthwhile cause. This young man was killed when he was 19. He gave everything for our freedom and I think people saw that."
The project was also personal for Berg. Her husband served in Viet Nam and she recalls how many soldiers returning from that conflict weren’t treated with respect or honor.
"I want to make sure that doesn’t happen again,’ she said.
The monument stands next to the picnic shelter and playground. The flagpole and flag are placed at the memorial’s head. One granite slab at the memorial base has the inscription, "In Memory of Sgt. Kyle Miller. KIA-Iraq. May we never forget those who defend our freedom."
A smaller stone, donated by Teresa Jacobs of Bird Island has this phrase engraved in it, "If love could have saved you, you would have lived forever."
The inscriptions cannot describe the memories townspeople and fellow soldiers have of Miller. He’s remembered for his ever-present smile and for being a prankster. One town resident said he’d taught Miller in Sunday School. Others recall a young Miller riding his bike to the town’s dances to partner with his grandmother.
He moved to Bird Island when he was only three and stayed for several years with his mother after his parents divorced. When he was 15, he lived with his father and step-mother, Randy and Candy, in Willmar until he enlisted in the National Guard and was deployed to Iraq.
Miller served with the 1st Battalion 125th Field Artillery unit based in New Ulm. His superior officers was Sgt. Jamison "Jamie" Burgess. Burgess spoke at Miller’s memorial service in Iraq and, again, at the Veteran’s Day ceremony. He wanted people to know about the man he knew in Iraq, Burgess said.
"He often reminded me that I was older," Burgess said. "I will always remember his smile. No matter what, he always had a smile on his face."
His mom could’ve been the inspiration for it.
"I told him, ‘If you make people smile, they will live longer,’" she said.
His ever-present grin proved a problem when he took his military photo. He had to do many push-ups because he kept smiling on the picture, Kathy Miller said.
Burgess and Miller worked together in communications. They fixed and installed equipment and IED detection systems in vehicles.
Ironically, Miller’s last mission with one military convoy, brought him to a base to get new IED detection devices. Miller installed the units but, on the nighttime return to base, the vehicle Miller was riding in, hit an IED. The detection units, a good detector for many IEDs, could not find every type and failed to identify the one the vehicle hit. Several from Miller’s unit were with the convoy at the time of the explosion, Burgess said.
On the anniversary of Miller’s death, two flags were flown over the base. They were presented by Burgess to Miller’s parents at the ceremony. Another flag, flown over Iraq on a helicopter, was flown from the flagpole during the Veteran’s Day ceremony.
Fellow Minnesotan James Finley joined Burgess and Miller often. The three discussed life after the military and talked about starting an investment club. They learned to play guitar together and joined other soldiers to smoke cigars. They were soldiers and they were friends.
"I want people who knew him to know about his life in the military," he said. "He was dependable and honest."
And now Miller is honored by a town where he lived for 13 years. The community gives their thanks to a fallen soldier.
He is survived by his parents and step-mother; his sister, Kim and step-siblings Tracie, Jessica and Jeremy.