|From The Register-Mail Online
A big-hearted adventurist
Senior Airman was due to return from Iraq this month
Tuesday, January 9, 2007
By JANE CARLSON
GALESBURG - In the Air Force, he was a bomb disposal technician known as Senior Airman Daniel B. Miller Jr.
In Knox County, he was Dan or Danny - a big-hearted adventurist who loved football, often went hunting and fishing with his buddies and always put his family first.
"The love he had for his family was just amazing," said Dana Sopher, Miller's girlfriend for the past year.
Miller, 24, was killed Sunday by a car bomb in Al-Mahmudiyah, about 12 miles south of Baghdad, Iraq. He was assigned to the 447th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron's explosive ordnance division out of Hill Air Force Base in Utah and may have been working to disarm the vehicle when the explosion occurred.
Senior Airman Daniel B. Miller Jr. poses for a photo in Iraq. Miller was based at Hill Air Force Base in Utah.
Two others in his unit were killed in the explosion, Tech. Sgt. Timothy R. Weiner, 35, of Tamarac, Fla., and Senior Airman Elizabeth A. Loncki, 23, of New Castle, Del. A fourth airman was injured.
Funeral arrangements for Miller are pending at Hinchliff-Pearson-West Galesburg Chapel.
Miller's six-month tour in Iraq had been nearing an end. Friends and family members were expecting him to return to the states within weeks.
The text message he sent Sopher the day he left for Iraq still is saved on her cell phone.
"It says, 'Get some sleep. Before you know it, it will be January and I'll be home,' " said Sopher, who was with Miller's father, Daniel Miller of Galesburg, and several of his siblings Sunday when the family heard the news. Robin Mahnesmith of rural Wataga is Miller's mother.
"He never showed fear. He didn't want to show fear because he didn't want his family to worry about him. He was so, so strong," Sopher said.
As the oldest of five siblings and several stepsiblings, Miller was constantly looking out for his brothers and sisters, friends said.
"He was the big brother," said Jenny Seiboldt, a high school friend who is close to the family. "They meant the world to him and vice-versa."
Seiboldt went on canoeing trips in Missouri with the family several times and said Miller "was always the first one to be jumping off the cliff."
"His family was definitely his biggest priority," said Seiboldt, who last talked to Miller about a month ago. "He told me he was loving what he was doing and if it wasn't for his family and friends, he would have just stayed over there."
Miller graduated from ROWVA High School in 2001 and was an offensive lineman on the varsity football team that made the playoffs in 1999 and 2000.
Maj. Richard Roberts, left, talks about one of three airmen recently killed in Iraq as Lt. Col. Craig Biondo listens during a news conference at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, Monday. Three airmen from Hill Air Force Base were killed in Iraq after a car bomb exploded, the U.S. Air Force said Monday. Tech Sgt. Timothy R. Weiner, 35, of Tamarac, Fla., Senior Airman Elizabeth A. Loncki, 23, of New Castle, Del., and Senior Airman Daniel B. Miller Jr., 24, of Galesburg, died in the blast Sunday near Baghdad.
"Dan was pretty typical of that group of kids," said Dale Grawe, Miller's former football coach and a teacher at ROWVA. "He was a role model for responsibility and for getting the job done. He never backed away from the challenge, never backed away from work. I remember he blocked some kicks and you'd see him come back to the sideline with a big smile on his face like he'd just conquered the world."
Zac Sopher, Wes Ekstedt and Dan Hall played football and were friends with Miller in high school.
"He wasn't the biggest or the strongest guy, but he hit the hardest," said Zac Sopher, who is Dana Sopher's older brother.
Ekstedt recalled his friend's positive energy on and off the field and said Miller was "usually the guy to get us pumped up." He also remembers when Miller first moved to the ROWVA school district.
"He was the new kid and he got made fun of a bit. But he never let it bother him," Ekstedt said. "We all ended up becoming great friends. I have admired him to this day for how he handled that situation. There just aren't words to describe him."
Hall met Miller in the seventh grade and attended Carl Sandburg College with him after high school, before Miller joined the Air Force.
"He was a great friend," said Hall. "We went coon hunting and fishing all the time. He was a crazy fellow. He'd do anything."
The three friends each ran into Miller at Nowhere Bar and Grill in Victoria last summer in the days before he left for Iraq.
"I bought him a drink and said, 'Good luck,' " said Ekstedt. "We didn't talk about him going to Iraq a whole lot. We were just enjoying the time we had. He didn't seem too worried about it. I think he saw it as something he wanted to get done."
That night was the last time Zac Sopher talked to his friend.
"He seemed ready for Iraq," he said. "He didn't seemed scared at all. He was brave."