By Sonya Campbell

Harker Heights Herald

BELTON - U.S. Army veteran William Miller, 70, of Harker Heights, is among hundreds of men and women being honored for their military service by having their names etched in bricks.

The bricks were embedded in Belton's new Patriot Way Walk that lines Central Avenue near the chamber of commerce.

Miller said he was surprised to learn about the brick that bears his name, which was purchased by his sister and nieces.

"I appreciate it very much," he said.

Miller, who served in the military for 19½ years before being medically discharged, said he enlisted in the Army in 1958.

He opted to join the military because there was nothing happening in Pennsylvania, where he was living at the time.

"Jobs were hard to get," Miller said. 'I thought, 'Oh, well' and joined the Army."

He has no regrets about his decision to serve.

"It was great, he said.

He especially enjoyed traveling abroad to such places as Italy and Germany.

But his time in the military didn't leave him completely unscarred.

Miller received a medical discharge after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

He believes his disabilities, which includes being blind in one eye, are the result of an incident that occurred in 1968 - something he refers to as "friendly fire."

Miller said he was serving his second tour in Vietnam when he and others were told to spread a defoliant on the grass around the perimeter of the military compound.

The grass, which grew up to 10 feet tall, provided cover for the enemy, he said.

To curb the problem, Miller said, he and two buddies were told to douse the grass with 100 percent Agent Orange.

"All three of us were soaked from head to toe for two days," he said.

Miller acknowledges doctors have told him the toxin wasn't the cause of his illness but he isn't so sure.

Today, the Vietnam veteran is confined to a wheelchair.

As a result, he said, his wife has been forced to take on a majority of the household chores.

One task his wife usually handles - something that causes Miller some grief - is pushing his wheelchair whenever they go out.

"I feel guilty," he said. "I weigh over 300 pounds. She's 72 years old and she's not a huge woman."

Miller said he was offered an electric wheelchair "once upon a time a long time ago," but he declined due to a lack of space in their home.

Even today his vehicle is too small to accommodate one, he said.

Seeing how difficult it's been for his wife to push his wheelchair around, however, has caused him to change his mind.

He said an electric wheelchair would be beneficial.

"I could at least go up and down the street (without help) to visit my friend," Miller said.

But he also said, "Trying to get one now is like pulling teeth."

Miller noted he last spoke with a Veterans Administration representative about six months ago with no results.

"I've been trying for the longest time to get assistance," he said.

On Wednesday, Miller said he was planning to attend a dedication service on Veterans Day for the Belton walkway.

"I plan to be out there, God willing and if the creek don't rise," he said.

He noted his wife or his best friend would be pushing his wheelchair.

"I'll be the 300-pound guy in a wheelchair with a black patch over one eye," Miller said.

About the walkway

The Patriot Way Brick Walk is a partnership project between the chamber and the city of Belton to honor the service of U.S. military veterans.

Chamber Office Manager Wendy Zimmerman said about 480 bricks have been sold to date.

Thursday's dedication service took place at the chamber to commemorate the completion of the first phase of the project.

At that time, plans for phase two were announced.

In addition to military service members and veterans, city and chamber officials, representatives from Belton'sadopted unit, the 15th Sustainment Brigade were in attendance.

Asked if she considers the project a success, Zimmerman said she would consider that to be the case when she knows for sure no names were omitted.

"That's my biggest fear. I don't want to miss anybody," she said.

The project was started in early 2009 and was meant to honor U.S. veterans nationwide.

"Belton is very military friendly. We wanted to show we support them," Zimmerman said.

Anyone interested in purchasing bricks may call the chamber office at (254) 939-3551.

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