Community bids farewell to Fallon firefighter
LVN Editor Emeritus
More than 1,000 mourners attended a funeral service Friday and many more lined the procession route to pay their final respects to a Fallon fireman who was fatally shot in church Sunday afternoon.
First responders and firefighters from both the county and Naval Air Station Fallon, along with visiting fire departments, attended a funeral service for Charles E. “Bert” Miller at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on North Taylor Street. Additionally, law enforcement personnel from Fallon, Churchill County and the Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe and ambulances from Banner Churchill Community Hospital lined up their vehicles south of the church.
The service, which lasted more than an hour, touched on Miller’s life with remembrances, prayer and song. Firemen and their families sat in the outer pews, while the Miller family filled the eight center pews. Many Fallon firefighters, who wore blue shirts and dark blue slacks, lined up near the entrances on each side of the church to provide a corridor for mourners to pass.
Destry Johnson, Miller’s nephew and a fellow firefighter, delivered the eulogy, which was filled with both poignant remembrances and humorous stories of the Fallon native. Johnson said when he was driving to the firehouse Friday morning, he noticed smoke (from fires in California) shrouded the sun.
“All I could do is smile and picture Bert fighting a fire in heaven,” Johnson said.
Johnson grew silent, though, trying to regain his composure. He made a parallel of life as a child with a dog and the emotions he was feeling at the moment. When Johnson was 4 years old, he had a puppy named Ben who became his best friend.
“He followed me everywhere,” Johnson said. “When I was 12, I lost my best friend.”
Johnson wept when Ben died, the same feeling he said he had delivering Miller’s eulogy. In his early 20s, Johnson faced a similar ordeal of putting his dog down.
“I underestimated my bravado,” he recalled. “I cried like a 12-year-old.”
He wondered if he had underestimated his bravado with his role of delivering Miller’s eulogy because of his close relationship and love for his uncle. Johnson mixed in some lighter moments. He said Miller nurtured patience when he was a young man waiting for his future wife, LuDene, to grow up.
“He was so patient he waited a week after she turned 18 to marry her,” Johnson said, changing the somber mood to a more uplifting tone.
“The Lord works in mysterious ways,” Johnson explained.
Less than one week ago on Saturday, the day before Miller died, Johnson said Bert and LuDene had one of those “conversations.” Johnson said he didn’t know what was discussed, but he said the Millers will always be soulmates. Johnson told other stories including one about Bert Miller and his rivalry with his daughter, Heidi, over a rally monkey the Angels used when the team won the World Series. Then, there was the serious side.
“Bert was a quiet, soft-spoken man,” Johnson explained. “When he spoke, you listened.”
Johnson said Bert Miller was devoted to his family, faith and fire department, where he served for 35 years. Others who gave input into Johnson’s eulogy said Miller was a man of integrity who knew his job and was also a dependable firefighter.
Fire Chief Mike Rice gave Johnson a heartfelt message about his friend — “I love Bert and know he’s in God’s fire department.”
Miller’s dependability emerged as a strong trait. Johnson said Miller achieved 100 percent in a recent quarter of responding to fire calls.
Aaron Sorensen, Brad Whitaker, Tyson Sorensen and Ryan Sorensen, who are longtime friends, sung “Oh My Father,” a musical number that soothed the mourners with the singers’ harmony.
Bishop Nathan Dahl of the 3rd Ward offered his remarks about Miller, a longtime member of the Mormon church.
“I’m humbled and honored to be here to speak,” Dahl said, adding Miller touched many lives of those in attendance.
Dahl related the story of how he tried to put out two different house fires, the first without the fire department.
“I grabbed a hose to put the fire out,” Dahl said. “People came over and asked why I didn’t call the fire department.”
On a second fire, he tried to extinguish it but admitted he didn’t do a good job.
“He (Miller) came up behind me and gave me a big hug and thanked me for what I did,” Dahl said. “Bert never had a bad word to say about anyone.”
Dahl said Miller was a true Christian man in “every sense of the word.” The bishop also tried to keep back his tears, saying he’s still a 12-year-old boy … a reference in Johnson’s eulogy.
Dahl compared the community to a quilt that is independently represented by different fabrics stitched together by everyone’s interaction. Dahl said Bert Miller was a big piece of that quilt, which will never be the same but will grow beautiful.
“Mourning is one of the expressions of pure love,” Dahl said.
During the service, occasional references made by speakers to Miller not liking neckties was noted. As one last favor, Dahl asked the men in attendance to remove their ties to honor Miller at the end of the final prayer. Before the conclusion of the service, though, a Churchill County dispatcher issued an “End of Watch Call” for Miller, paging him three times and acknowledging him for his service and then mentioning his passing. Silence followed with many mourners beginning to cry, some dabbing the tears with tissue, others with their fingers.
A procession led by the city’s classic Brockway fire truck carried Miller’s casket to the Churchill County Cemetery. His sons, Michael and Brian, and son-in-law Ian Ayers stood on the backboard, with Fire Chief Mike Rice following in a department vehicle with the Miller family. The long procession of first responders, family members and friends wound down Taylor Street, east on Williams Avenue to Rio Vista Drive and north to the cemetery where a grave dedication was conducted.