A veteran and retiree who has championed Bartholomew County’s local observance of POW/MIA National Recognition Day was honored for his efforts Saturday.

During the 17th annual Honoring Veterans Banquet at the Hilton Garden Inn, Robert Dale “Bob” Miller, 70, received a standing ovation after he was honored with the 2017 Patriot Award.

“This is about the POWs and their families,” Miller said to the more than 50 people in attendance “It’s important.”

Presented by the Honoring Veterans Committee in Bartholomew County, the Patriot Award is given to individuals or organizations who have championed the cause of military veterans and active duty troops.

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After growing up and graduating from high school in Cleveland, Ohio, Miller was drafted into the U.S. Army in November 1966.

While assigned to the 78th Artillery Unit of the Second Armored Division out of Fort Hood, Texas, Miller served in Vietnam from May 1967 to May 1968.

During his military career, he received the Vietnam Service Medal with three bronze service stars, the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, and the Army Commendation Medal.

His military record also shows he qualified as both a marksman and sharpshooter.

After being discharged in November 1968, Miller served in the Army reserves while earning his degree in accounting from Cleveland State University. Eventually, he moved to Philadelphia, where he worked 36 years for Conrail.

After taking early retirement in 2007, Miller moved to Columbus, where he became active in the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, Amvets and the Moose Lodge.

But it wasn’t until 2010 that Miller saw a notice on a bulletin board while visiting a Veterans Affairs facility.

Up until that moment, Miller had been completely unaware that there was a POW/MIA National Recognition Day, according to a 2012 column written by the late Harry McCawley for The Republic.

“I thought this must be among the least recognized national observances ever created,” Miller told McCawley.

Due largely to Miller’s efforts, the observance has taken place on the third Friday of every September at the Bartholomew County Memorial for Veterans.

The featured speaker at the banquet was Lt. Colonel Lisa Kopczynski, a 30-year veteran of the Indiana Army National Guard.

During her address, Kopczynski said the United States has been at war for more than 16 years, which has created the largest population of veterans since the Vietnam era.

There are now approximately 120,000 U.S. soldiers being discharged every year, Kopczynski said.

“We owe it to our men and women to make sure they make that transition with the skills and experience to find meaningful employment,” Kopczynski said.

McCawley, who died Sept. 28 at age 77, was posthumously honored for his support and contributions to veterans’ causes over many years.

“If there was a committee in Bartholomew County to serve veterans, Harry was on it,” retired U.S. Air Force Major Gen. Mark Pillar said. “If he didn’t create it, he was on it.”

McCawley, a former associate editor of The Republic, was among four people to receive the first Patriot Award, also presented in 2001 to John Foster, Wes Roy and retired Lt. Col. Richard Yeaton.

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.