Local recalls time as U.S. Naval investigator

Published 7:23 pm Friday, July 26, 2019

Lee Miller may not have made an appearance on the hit tv show, NCIS, but many of his stories from his time in Naval Investigative Services would easily be worth their own episode.

Miller got his start with the military in the U.S. Air Force in just a few years after it was founded in 1947. 

“The reason we all joined was because we didn’t want to be drafted into the Army,” Miller said. “Korea was just starting up, and we figured the first place they would go would be — they’d train you, and you’d go over to Korea.”

Miller trained in Texas, and he was trained to be a clerk, typist — a job that he had no experience with prior to enlisting. Immediately following training, he was shipped off to Japan.

“In Japan, I was attached to an intelligence office,” Miller said. “I knew nothing about intelligence, and I knew less about being a clerk, typist, but at all of these offices in the military, you have a clerk or two or three. They do the typing and all of the administrative, so I learned. I started at the bottom, of course.”

Miller said that the technical sergeant over his office helped train him, and when the sergeant retired two years later, Miller had advanced far enough to take over the office. It was in that office that Miller received his first experience with investigations. He conducted daily interviews with pilots, who collecting information on Russian ships transporting supplies that ranged from food to tanks.

“That was my first real intelligence job,” Miller said. “A few times, we flew along with them, and we could observe. The planes flew low. Sometimes the sailors onboard those Russian vessels would take water hoses and shoot up at us.”

After two and a half years in Japan, Miller finished his Air Force service in the U.S., where he was asked to re-enlist. Miller was a staff sergeant at that time and told recruitment officers that he wanted to go back to college, so that he could continue to rise in the ranks. He was honorably discharged in December 1954, and he began taking classes January 1955. He graduated in 1957 with a degree in government service and a wife and child.

“I had by this time decided I wanted to be a criminal investigator, and I went first to the military because I knew the most about the military,” Miller said. 

After talking to recruiters, Miller learned that while there weren’t jobs doing what he wanted to do in the Army or Air Force at that time, there were jobs with the Navy.

“Eventually, I was hired, and it was at that time the Office of Naval Intelligence,” Miller said. “At first, I wasn’t too happy with it.  Then I get into it a little more, but it was mostly doing background checks on Navy and Marine Corps people, civilians for security clearances.”

After more than five years of trying to catch up with the constant backlog of security clearances, Miller put in for overseas work again. He returned to Japan with his wife and two daughters, and they lived there for five years.

“Here is where the criminal work began,” Miller said. “I was investigating crimes against the Navy and Marine Corps. … At that time, a big thing was smoking marijuana, taking drugs, sailors bringing stuff into Japan — that was a lot of it at the time. It’s not so big anymore.”

Miller also helped investigate murder, homicide and other standard crimes, as well as crimes that made international headlines, like the investigation of the North Korean capture of the U.S.S. Pueblo.

“That is known as the Pueblo Incident, and what our job was is… we investigated the captain and several other members of the crew about all their activities,” Miller said. “We found out all the weapons that they took. It was an interesting investigation.”

Miller said that he enjoyed living and working in Japan, and his wife was a leader among the military wives on base. 

“Both of my girls today still talk about Japan,” Miller said. “Now, both of them are lawyers.”

After his time in Japan, Miller and his family moved to Pensacola, Florida, where he ran the office for five years. He then served in the Philippians for two years, before settling in Norfolk, Virginia. Miller recalls when the Naval Investigative Service became the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, and he served at both bases in the area. 

“My biggest accomplishment was getting promoted to a grade where I was eventually given the opportunity to supervise an office that at that time was at that time was in the organization. I think it was just one year,” Miller said. “That’s when I retired. You can’t leave a job where you’ve done well and not like it.”

Miller retired in 1986, but he continued to run background for various government agencies after he retired. Miller moved to LaGrange to be near his daughters after his wife, Judith, passed due to Alzheimer’s.