Wounded Combat Vet Artist Continues to Gift His Art to Veterans and First Responders

Photos courtesy of Tom Miller

By Steve Sears

A 9/11 print

Whippany resident, Tom Miller, remembers his service in Vietnam. 

He lost two comrades, one dying right in his arms, the same day he lost his right eye when shrapnel hit his leg and ricocheted into his pupil. He also slept in rice paddies of up to five feet in water.

“People don’t know how good they have it over here,” he says. “They really don’t know. Yes, we’ve got a lot of crime, and yes, they aren’t nice people. But there are a lot of good people over here, with a lot of nice jobs with everything you could ask for. There are people that live by hand to mouth and paycheck to paycheck, but still the majority of the people are pretty well off in this area, and they can sleep on a bed or they can sleep on a floor. It’s more comfortable than sleeping in five inches of rice paddy water.”

Miller, an artist, is currently working on a series of 21 ceramics called The Flags of Our Conflicts, and he is about six months away from finishing a print series of the same. The series represents the many flags associated with American war conflicts through the years. He works, however, mostly with watercolor.  

Miller, 81, was born in Milwaukee in 1941. He went to high school and enlisted in the service in 1963. When discharged from the service, he enrolled in the University of Wisconsin Whitewater Campus, graduated, then moved to Moscow, Idaho and attended the University of Idaho and got his Master’s degree.

He speaks about Operation Harvest Moon. “It was horrible,” he recalls, speaking softly. “Not only in getting wounded and my partner getting killed and the other two lieutenants getting wounded, it was horrible with how much rain we had to go through.” He looks at his painting of that day, his partner shooting out the back window of the room they were in. “I think, ‘What did I get wrong?’ he says. “I was filling up his magazines and the thing came in the back door – the rocket came in the back door – and blew the wall apart.”

Miller, married to his lovely wife, Rose Marie Sabatini, welcomes every Memorial Day. “I’m thankful that I know a bunch of good vets, and I’m thankful that we are not at war anymore.” And he’d also like to complete his 9/11 print series, which is almost done. “I’ve got roughly 60, maybe 65 pieces, and with this about, the “Flags” series, abut 65 to 70 pieces,” he says. “I’ve made arrangements with the Pentagon – tentative arrangements – for them to take a set of 60 different prints of the “Flags” series, and they’ll be hanging in the Pentagon, so they’ll own that. I’m not asking for money or anything else. And the rest of the originals will go up to the Highground.”

A Tom Miller depiction in watercolor of an eagle

Miller founded Highground Veterans Memorial Park, dedicated in 1988 and located in Neillsville, Wisconsin. “The Highground has been promoted to the premier veterans’ park In the United States, which just shocked the heck out of me because I guess anything I start doesn’t stay little,” he says with a laugh. “But they got really big, and the people who ran it really did a nice job on producing what they did. I just started it, carried it in my back pocket for two years until I got some people to help me, and then they’ve done it all.”

Miller, who also occasionally teaches art and more at Farleigh Dickinson University in Florham Park when the main professor isn’t available, would like to experiment and do other types of series with his art, but will continue to paint butterflies and eagles and other popular subjects for those fond of them. And for Miller, there is a continued joy in giving his art away, especially to first responders and veterans. 

 

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