Miller's Vets bid farewell to a judge who helped homeless veterans and the elderly

Judge Robert L. Miller Sr.


By MARGARET FOSMOE | South Bend Tribune, Ind. | Published: May 4, 2019

MISHAWAKA, Ind. (Tribune News Service) — Judge Robert L. Miller Sr. dedicated his senior years to helping homeless veterans and the elderly in the community.

Among his contributions were founding Miller’s Vets, a program to help homeless veterans return to self-sufficiency, and establishing The Last Salute, a program in which Miller’s Vets perform a full military graveside service for veterans.

On Saturday, Miller himself was the recipient of The Last Salute during a burial ceremony at St. Joseph Valley Memorial Park.

It was a fitting final farewell to Miller, a retired St. Joseph County judge and longtime advocate for veterans and elderly services. He died April 27 at age 98.

A dozen members of Miller’s Vets stood at military attention at the cemetery, saluting as the flag-draped coffin was carried from the hearse. In the background, a bagpipe played.

The unit provided full military honors, including a 21-volley rifle salute and the playing of taps. Unit members folded the American flag and presented it to the late judge’s family.

The military rites followed a funeral service at Evangel Heights United Methodist Church in South Bend.

Miller’s Vets member Jerry Smead, 68, of South Bend, said it was a great honor to serve at Saturday’s ceremony for Miller. He’s been a member of the unit since 2013.

“He was enjoyable. He was a grand old guy,” Smead said of the late judge. “It’s an honor to do this for everyone.”

The unit is an important part of Smead’s life, and he has no plans to ever retire from Miller’s Vets. “It’s a way I give back to my fallen brothers,” he said.

Unit member Jodie Roby, 50, of South Bend, feels the same. The U.S. Army veteran has been serving in the unit for a little more than a year. He was awed by knowing Miller and reveres the judge’s memory.

“He was a World War II veteran. He was a national treasure,” said Roby, who was formerly homeless. He stayed at Miller’s Vets Center for a while, and graduated out of the center last summer to live and work on his own.

“Wherever the man went, he excelled,” Lt. Col. Donald Neeley, a retired U.S. Army chaplain told the mourners. Miller never lost his passion for helping individuals who were in need of help and love, he said.

The Indiana Patriot Guard Riders and members of several other veterans’ groups turned out on motorcycles to pay their respects to Miller and offer words of condolence to the family.

Miller, who earned bachelor’s and law degrees at the University of Notre Dame, enlisted in the U.S. Navy in World War II, serving in five major campaign battles as a battery officer in the South Pacific. He was wounded and awarded more than a dozen medals, including the Purple Heart. He served again during the Korean War, retiring as a lieutenant commander in the Naval Reserves.

After practicing law, Miller was appointed a judge of St. Joseph Superior Court, serving in that position until his retirement.

The Robert L. Miller Sr. Veterans Center operates on South Michigan Street, providing a place for homeless military veterans to live and obtain services in order to transition to independent living. It’s part of the Center for the Homeless.

Miller also founded Miller’s Vets Garden of Peace behind Portage Manor in South Bend, where burial plots are reserved for veterans.

The judge’s passing doesn’t mean an end to those services. Miller’s Vets, The Last Salute, the Veterans Center and related programs will continue the work the judge started.

©2019 the South Bend Tribune (South Bend, Ind.)
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