It was just before 6 p.m. on a blistering hot day on the job, and some of the crew had some downtime before heading back out on the bridge.Since Mr. Miller was accompanied and assisted in these rescue efforts by other members of his road crew, he never imagined that people would single him out for recognition; yet that is exactly what has happened. The Congressional Medal of Honor Society has nominated him as a finalist for the Above and Beyond Citizen Honor. Quoting from their website:
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“I looked at the traffic stop, and then I noticed that a female in a car was kind of freaking out. She was waving her hands. I thought she was crazy. Then she rolled down her window and said the cars were ‘bouncing.’ I said, “Bouncing, what are you talking about?”
Miller turned --- and saw nothing, except dust and smoke.
“After about a minute, I realized there was no more bridge. So then I went from chaos mode to panic.”
Miller worked his way down into the river gorge, across train tracks and woods, to where a huge canopy of highway was resting at a sharp angle.
He jumped down an 8-foot embankment, grabbing a tree branch to break his fall.
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Then he got to the place he calls Ground Zero. “There [were] eight lanes of concrete hanging 15 feet above me.”
In an instant, he found himself praying. “I said, ‘God, help me not to focus on that piece of concrete, that piece of highway hanging above my head.’ From there, I didn’t look up.”
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Among the first people Miller found was a woman trapped in a car upside down. He crawled into the car and ripped out the head rests so she could be pulled out through the back seat.
Strangely, she was calm. “She was very uncomfortable, I could tell,” Miller said. “But she was more calm than I was.”
More haunting was the crushed minivan carrying the Coulter family --- mom, dad, and two teenage daughters from Savage.
“I couldn’t tell it was a minivan because it was crushed. I thought it was a sedan,” Miller said.
He found one of the girls standing by the wreck, in shock, under the sloping concrete. “I told her we’ve got to get moving. It’s either I pick you up or I’ll help you walk. She wouldn’t move. She was scared. I ended up picking her up.”
A co-worker helped the other injured girl.
They were able to help the father walk through the rubble and concrete, supporting him with his arms over their shoulders, like an injured football player.
“He wasn’t responding to anybody,” Miller recalled. “He wasn’t making any noise. And for him not to respond to his daughters screaming, I knew something was wrong.”
By the time they got to the mother, who appeared to be the most badly injured, they had found plywood to use as a makeshift stretcher to carry her and others to waiting ambulances. Some were loaded into the back of a company truck that was pressed into service.
Miller would later splash into the water to help land boats that were coming in from the river, carrying victims, rescuers and other construction workers.
These awards will celebrate the best of America by profiling spectacular stories of individuals who demonstrate service over self. The heroic examples of the Medal of Honor recipients, along with the Above & Beyond Citizen Honorees, will continue to inspire long after the presentation ceremony. These remarkable citizens stand to remind each and every one of us that for Americans, anything is possible.Retired General Colin Powell will present the awards on March 25, 2008. Check your local cable provider for a list of stations carrying the event.