Charles Milam

Charles Luke Milam—February 2008 Shipment Honoree

Columbine “defining moment” for sailor who died in war

Source: by Jean Torkelson, Rocky Mountain News, Thursday, September 27, 2007
Charles L. Milan
Charles L. Milan

Charles Luke Milam may have been inspired to follow a hero’s path because of a day he never talked about, a terrible April day in 1999 when he was a student at Columbine High School.

“He wasn’t shot or wounded or shot at,” Keith Milam said Thursday, “but absolutely, it was the defining moment of his life.”

Two months after the Columbine killings, Milam, 26, enlisted in the Navy, following in the footsteps of his brother, Keith, and two grandfathers.

This week, the decorated hospital corpsman — known to everybody as Luke — died in combat in Afghanistan. It was his fourth tour of duty. He had served three tours in Iraq, and would have gone back however many times it took to get the job done, his brother said.

“He felt it was his duty to do whatever he could to help people in the military,” Milam said. “He was a hero in every sense of the term.”

His brother surmises that living through the Columbine horror helped shape his brother’s future.

“It wasn’t something Luke ever talked about, but the fact he chose to become a hospital corpsman may have had something to do with (Columbine).”

What was clear — something transformed Luke after he graduated. “He did OK in high school, but after he joined the military he was a star,” his brother said.

Milam was the first in his family to enter a medical field, dedicating himself to helping people deal with injuries and death in combat situations.

“Luke was responsible for the health and well-being of the men in his platoon,” Keith Milam said. “He basically served as their doc — from everyday aches and pains to severe combat trauma.”

Recognition followed. The Purple Heart was just one of many awards. Another — one the family is especially proud of — was being named Special Operations Command Operator of the Year.

Milam, who remained single, chose the military as his career. But he never lost a chance to return to Colorado for his favorite sports, from mountain biking and hiking, to scuba diving and sky diving.

Funeral arrangements for Thursday are pending with Drinkwine Mortuary. As word of Milam’s death spreads to childhood friends, his old Scout troop and to military buddies, the anticipated crowd continues to grow larger and larger, his brother said.

Burial will be at Fort Logan National Cemetery. Milam’s commanding officer is escorting his body back to Colorado from Dover Air Force Base.

“I think that speaks to how valuable Luke was to his organization,” his older brother said. “He was the best of the best.”

Luke Milam

Charles Luke Milam
Charles Luke Milam

Luke Milam was not only big and strong but saw himself as the man his Marine Corps brothers could turn to in combat if they were hurt. The 6-foot-4, 200-pound Navy petty officer from Littleton was a hospital corpsman trained to care for Marines engaged in special-combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

On Tuesday, Milam, 26, was on patrol with coalition forces in Afghanistan when they apparently were hit by a rocket attack near the town of Musa Qula.

Musa Qula lies in an opium-poppy growing area of Afghanistan where the Taliban has engaged in prolonged and fierce battles with British and U.S. troops this summer.

Milam, highly decorated in three earlier tours in Iraq, was killed in what Keith Milam, his oldest brother, said appeared to be an ambush.

But Keith Milam of Nashville said his brother — a 1999 Columbine High School graduate — was doing what he wanted to do. “Luke loved his job. He was living a dream,” Keith Milam said today. “He felt it was his calling to help the guys around him.”

“If there were guys in harm’s way, he needed to be there to take care of them,” he added.

At the time of his death, Milam was assigned to the 2nd Marine Special Operations Battalion.

Keith Milam said his brother was a “real outdoorsy guy” whose life revolved around backpacking, mountain biking, hiking, canoeing, scuba diving and skydiving.

“He loved anything outdoors. He liked to keep in shape,” said his sister, Jaeme Milam of Denver. Jaeme Milam said her kid brother — the youngest of her three brothers — was following in the military footsteps of brother Keith and grandfather Charles.

He was planning to make the military his career, she said. “He loved what he did. He loved his guys and would have done anything for them,” she said.

Luke was awarded the Purple Heart from a wound suffered in Iraq; the Bronze Star; two Combat Action ribbons; two Good Conduct Medals; two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals; the National Defense Service Medal; the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal; and two Sea Service Deployment Ribbons.

Keith Milam said that the outpouring of sympathy has been overwhelming. “He was highly regarded by the Navy and was even regarded more by the Marine Corps,” Keith Milam said. “We have heard from members of his unit. We understand that his commanding general and officer plan to attend the funeral at Fort Logan.”

In addition to his brother and sister, he is survived by his parents, Michael and Rita Milam of Seattle, and his brother Andrew of Denver.

Services for family and friends will be held at 11 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 4, at Drinkwine Mortuary in Littleton, followed by a 1 p.m. service at Fort Logan National Cemetery.

The members of Landstuhl Hospital Care Project were honored to remember Charles during the month of Feb 2008 with our shipments to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, and U.S. military hospitals in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait.  Our thoughts and prayers remain with Charles’s family and friends today and in the years to come.

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