Robert C. Miller Obit

Following is the obit of Robert C. Miller from Mike Gordon of the Honolulu Advertiser


The world of journalism has lost a foreign correspondent from the old school.

Robert C. Miller, who covered five wars for United Press International and led the wire service's Honolulu bureau for many years, died yesterday (July 26, 2004) at his home in Hilo. He was 89.

Miller's globe-trotting exploits were once described as the kind of glamorous career that inspired young journalists. The stories he wrote bore datelines from exotic places: Da Nang, Phnom Penh, Burma, Sydney, Tokyo, even Antarctica.

"He was a legend, a marvelous, wonderful storyteller," said Eddie Inouye, who worked with Miller in the 1960s and '70s.

Miller covered World War II, the Palestine War, the Greek Civil War, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

During World War II, Miller accompanied U.S. Marines when they landed at Guadalcanal. For six weeks, he followed their missions, keeping a diary as he dodged sniper bullets. He also caught malaria. When he returned to the states, newspaper readers got a vivid description of the fighting.

Later in the war, in the spring of 1944, Miller was one of 17 survivors of a U.S. ship sunk by a German submarine in the English Channel. They floated in oily water for six hours before they were rescued.

But his sister, Shirley McKee of Paso Robles, Calif., said her brother was always lucky. At Verdun, when a piece of shrapnel tore into his right arm, he didn't worry; he was left-handed.

Even though he was a civilian, the Army gave him a Purple Heart.

His brushes with danger -- and his luck -- didn't end in Europe.

In a 1970 newspaper story, Miller said his interview skills saved his life a few months earlier when he and a photographer were captured by North Vietnamese soldiers in Cambodia. They were held for eight hours, all the while telling their captors they were there to report on their story -- which they did.

Miller was born in Bound Brook, N.J., on June 10, 1915.

He got his start with UPI the day after he graduated from the University of Nevada in 1938, driving all night from Reno to Fresno, Calif., in his Model A for his first day of work. He retired 45 years later, in 1983.

Miller spent 16 years as bureau chief in Honolulu. When UPI sent him to head its Sydney bureau in 1980, Gordon Sakamoto took over. Miller knew generals, politicians, movers-and-shakers, Sakamoto said.

"My god, there wasn't a place he couldn't go without knowing everybody," Sakamoto said. "Everything he did was at top speed. He was a great newsman. He covered wars, upheavals."

In retirement, Miller liked to travel, fish for trout near a home he kept in Whitmore, Calif., and sip vodka gimlets. He spent part of the year in California and part in Hilo with long-time companion Michi Haga. He also had a home in Sydney.

McKee said her brother's health was fine until last December, when he suffered the first of several strokes. He was seriously ill for the last six weeks, she said.

On Friday (July 23, 2004) , his doctors said he only had days to live. In a tragic twist, it was also the same day that the Big Island Press Club handed out the journalism scholarship that bears Miller's name, something the organization has done for 30 years.

Miller is survived by Michi Haga, who married Miller last Tuesday (July 20, 2004) after a courtship that lasted 54 years.

"In the morning I went to ask him what do you want for breakfast," she said. "He said, 'I want to tell you something.' He said, 'I love you.' I said, 'I love you, too.' And he said, 'I want to get married.'"

Miller is also survived by his sister, Shirley McKee, two nieces and nephews and nine grand-nieces and nephews.

McKee said her brother did not want a funeral service and that the family plans to scatter his ashes in the waters off Hilo.

In lieu of a service, they will gather for a meal in his honor and toast him with a gimlet.