Miller is an easy conversationalist, ready for all kinds of good-spirited verbal sparring with his patrons.

Veterans talk with other veterans, he said, and when they learn he has been a U.S. Navy diver, they often feel more at ease and willing to share some memories with an understanding comrade. Miller’s customers include a number of young men who have served and returned to their homes in and near Greene.

Miller recalled some who didn’t return, including Army Corporal Andrew Hutchins of New Portland, who was killed just about three years ago in Afghanistan.

“He was a great young man,” Miller said. He keeps Andrew’s picture on a bulletin board in his small barber shop.

Miller is a retired member of the U.S. Navy Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit, Detachment 101, Portland. He entered the Navy in 1977. He related some fascinating stories of the arduous training and the dive and salvage jobs in which he took part.

Miller described the thrill and satisfaction that came with difficult dive assignments using state-of-the-art equipment. He was part of the dive teams tasked with raising a sunken and deteriorating ship at Ellis Island in New York Harbor. He told of the dark, dirty and dangerous conditions he encountered as he worked with a high-pressure hose to bore more then 20 feet through muck and mud to reach the vessel’s prop. He removed the large three-blade prop, maybe eight feet in diameter, and then had to blast his way up and out.

Miller also told about an ironic assignment his dive team undertook in the Gulf of Mexico off Mississippi where hundreds of lead-acid batteries had been discarded into the water around Coast Guard light buoys. An environmental organization wanted them removed from the water.

“The salt water actually neutralizes the battery acid,” he said. Furthermore, the divers found that large piles of the batteries had become a fish-friendly reef over the years, so the battery recovery effort was called off.

Other diving duty in Miller’s period of service included placement of massive concrete mooring buoys in Italy, and sweeping ships and harbors for possible percussion mines.

When a vet takes a seat in Miller’s barber chair, he said he never knows what he will hear. He’s always grateful to see some young veterans who suffered injuries in Iraq or Afghanistan who have returned and visit him at the barbershop.

There’s also a recent graduate of the Coast Guard Academy who lives in Auburn, and Miller said he thought he might have talked him into going to dive school.

“He’s going to Pensacola for pilot training, but that’s good, too,” Miller said.

Older veterans also bring stories into Ron’s Barber Shop. He told of a World War vet who came for a haircut, and the vet’s son had come to assist.

“The man’s son said he learned more about his father’s war experiences as he listened to us talk than he had ever known before,” Miller said.

There’s another WWII vet who enjoys swapping tales with Miller. He is retired Major John Norman of Turner, now 92 years old, who saw service in the Pacific and Germany.

“I like to give John a hard time,” Miller said. Norman was a signalman with Morse Code skills that he still keeps sharply tuned. Miller said that Norman will voice a series of “dit-dit-dah-dits” that are the vet’s “unrepeatable and unprintable” come-backs in the bantering between them.

As this interview with Miller neared a close, the barbershop door opened and Norman walked in, spry and friendly and ready to match wits with Miller.

As to Miller’s challenge to say something in Morse Code, Norman chuckled and replied, “Can’t do that. There are children and ladies present.”

Miller agrees with many people that the tremendous contributions of Vietnam veterans are still not adequately acknowledged. And he agrees that Vietnam vets still keep many difficult memories to themselves.

“The real heroes are the spouses of veterans,” Miller said. He admires the sacrifices of those who stay at home while military personnel are deployed for months and years around the world.


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