Somber emotions filled the East Troy High School gym Saturday. It was quite the contrast to the more familiar sounds of cheering, stomping crowds reverberating over the steady bounce, bounce, bounce of a basketball, squeaks from athletic shoes interrupted by players shouting directions to each other.
Saturday, the sounds were different. This time, the crowd of nearly 600 filled the gym floor and visitors’ bleachers to say good-bye to Lt. Bret Miller, 30, an ETHS graduate, former star basketball player and successful Naval officer.
Miller died Oct. 28 while flying a training mission over the gulf coast of Texas. A search continues for Lt. Joe Houston of Houston who was also aboard the plane.
Miller’s flag-adorned casket lay in front of the home side bleachers surrounded by flowers, more flags and a basketball-shaped flower arrangement featuring Miller’s ETHS number 22.
Amid quiet chatter and occasional tears, the community came to support Miller’s family – his wife, Brianne; his son, Chase; his parents, Rick and Judy; his brother Chad and sister Tara Grocholski; his in-laws and friends.
The Rev. Maurice Lind of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, East Troy, directed his first words to Miller’s family: “I know that I speak for everyone here today when I say that our hearts ache…There are no words that can adequately say how much we hurt with you and for you.”
He also spoke to Miller’s friends from the Navy: “You have not only suffered the tragic death of one brother, but two.”
Lind offered words of comfort. “Bret is safe. He is OK…One day, you will see him again and you will be with him forever…That is the comfort that God has for you today even in the midst of your sorrow.”
Commander William J. Cox, Miller’s commanding officer, talked about Miller’s Naval life. “Lt. Miller was an outstanding Naval officer.
“Bret Miller left a legacy of friendship…and of mentorship.”
Cox read from a letter he wrote to Miller’s son, Chase, who is only about 2 years old. “I would like to share with you what I know of your father, so you can know your father.
“He was both a great Naval officer and Naval aviator.” More than that, Cox said, Miller was a man of integrity. “He was the type of man you knew you could trust.
“He always did the right thing, regardless of the consequences,” Cox said.
Cox talked about the reasons Miller chose to become a pilot and an instructor. “Bret
Miller loved to fly…Bret Miller loved instructing…and he had great success in this.
“Your father flew and risked his life every day because he loved his country.
“Your father was a patriot,” Cox said. “Your father died defending the United States of America.”
A friend of Miller’s from the military said, “Bret always set lofty goals for himself and he achieved them.
“But his greatest love was his family…He was a devoted family man, a patient father and a loyal husband.”
Another friend described Miller as “incredibly humble, selfless and loyal.” He talked about Miller’s smile: “He was an unbiased smile giver…it was infectious and could light up a room.”
Gary Grocholski, Miller’s brother-in-law, said, “His high school years were merely an audition for the life in front of him.
“I long for the 30 or 40 years of memories that now will never be,” Grocholski said. “I was fortunate that Bret called me on Tuesday, the day before his plane went down.” He said they talked for 20 minutes or so, and that Miller was excited that he and his wife, who is expecting a baby in March 2010, were going to have another boy.
Rick Penniston, ETHS principal, coached Miller from 1995 to 1997, when the school’s varsity team had two championship seasons.
Penniston said Miller was a four-year varsity starter. “That doesn’t happen very often.”
The gym suddenly came to life as a compilation of radio broadcasts from the Trojans’ winning seasons sounded through the speakers.
Penniston then talked about Miller’s exceptional skills, not only on the court but with his teammates as well. Because of this, Penniston said, the school decided to honor Miller’s memory by retiring Miller’s number 22.
He then invited two of Miller’s former teammates – Jim Chapman, ETHS Class of 1996, and Nathan Aldinger, who graduated from ETHS with Miller in 1997, to unveil Miller’s No. 22 basketball jersey. The jersey will hang in the hallway outside the ETHS gym in Miller’s memory.
A short time later, Lt. Bret Miller left the ETHS gym for the last time, surrounded by family and friends, as he always had been.
Miller was buried in Oak Ridge Cemetery, East Troy.