Today, the band will play, the men will march, the crowd will cheer, not for a state visitor or a fallen soldier, but for Paul C. Miller, retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel.
He's been the man in charge of ceremonies for every president from Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan -- 8,500 ceremonies last year alone. That includes inaugurations, official and state funerals, arrivals of heads of states and commemorative ceremonies. Any time the flag goes by in the Military District of Washington, Miller's the one who set it waving. This afternoon he retires. With full brass band. The other day, in a civilian summer suit with a ribbon in his buttonhole and a red, white and blue striped tie to match it, held by a Liberty Bell tie clip, Miller managed to look as though he were still in uniform.
Today's retirement will be his second. Oct. 21, 1960, he retired as a lieutenant colonel in the Army after 20 years in the service; 13 days later he was appointed to his same post as a civilian -- the first such director of ceremonies for the Army's Military District of Washington. On Nov. 22, three years later, he was hard at work in his office when he had a call from John C. Metzler, superintendent of Arlington Cemetery. Metzler's wife had seen on television that John F. Kennedy had been shot. Miller called the White House and said he was standing by. And then, in the military man's typical preoccupation, he went to have his hair cut.
"I never did get it cut," said Miller, "because the White House called and told me to come right over."
At 4 the next morning he was standing with Sargent Shriver at the White House, when they heard the president's body was on its way from Bethesda Naval Hospital to lie in state in the East Room. Shriver suddenly said, "Wouldn't it be nice if the president had a military escort from the gates to the East Room?"
Miller and the naval aide discussed the matter. The aide telephoned the Marine Barracks at Eighth and I streets SE. Seventeen minutes later the crack Marine Drill Team arrived to escort the body. They had dressed on the bus.
Later, as the president's body lay in state in the East Room, Miller stood in a corner trying to hide his tears. Maj. Gen. Philip Wehle came over to him and said, "Come on, Iron Man, let's get out of here before you rust up."
Miller would rather remember another Kennedy ceremony. JFK was the first to move the arrival ceremony for state visitors to the White House grounds. One day when some august guest was being honored with a 21-gun salute, Miller heard a small voice counting. The president heard it too. They looked up, and in an upper White House window was the small Kennedy daughter Caroline, counting the guns as they fired.
"Her father looked up at her with such a wonderful expression of embarrassment and pride," said Miller. But he suspects Kennedy spoiled her fun: "Photographers kept watch," Miller said, "but she never was seen at the window again."
Jan. 20, 1985, the icy day before Ronald Reagan's second official inauguration, Miller went to his command post at Constitution Avenue and Third Street to check on a snow plow. degree cold, he immediately went to the military office of the White House and, with William Henkel of the inaugural committee, "got a group together and called the doctors." Miller became a man of history -- the first to cancel an inaugural parade.
Small things can be a help in big matters, Miller believes. Take the time the Army chief of staff was expecting a difficult time with a foreign guest. Miller made the effort to find out the guest's old regimental tune. It helped.
* A similar ploy worked with Harry Truman. Truman hit it off immediately, because they'd both served with the 35th Division of the National Guard. "He was a tremendous old man. After he moved back home, I used to visit him when we had ceremonies at the Truman Library" in Independence, Mo.
Miller won't say -- even if he knows -- how many ceremonies he's struck up the band for since he first came to the Army's ceremonies and special events office here. But he will say, "back then, half of the heads of state came by steamer; now in this day of jet planes, we certainly have many more."
Most of the time, the troops are sharp because the drill team went to bed early the night before, ate breakfast and didn't tie their tie, belt or shoes too tight (cuts off circulation, says Miller). But there can be problems. Once it was a commanding general who fainted on parade.
*Every president has his preferences, Miller says. Dwight D. Eisenhower brought in herald trumpets and a standardization of the level of honors. Reagan, with his Hollywood love of casts of thousands, likes ceremonies with lots of flags.
Jimmy Carter, a former Navy man but a born-again populist, was reluctant to be on the receiving end of pomp and circumstances but, Miller said, "began to see the uses of it for his guests."
*But Gretchen Poston, Rosalynn Carter's social secretary, kept Miller busy. For the anniversary celebration for the Veterans Administration, she had fireworks depicting the emblem for every branch of the service, as well as troops, bands and performances from every military group, not to mention horses. Poston remembers the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty dinner on the White House South Lawn, for which Miller, on short notice, conjured up refrigerator trucks, generators and all sorts of support groups. For the last Carter staff Christmas snow party on the lawn, Miller supplied arctic clothing for the maitre d' and the waiters.
The inaugurations and the state visits are relatively easy, because you can plan them ahead. State funerals are something else, but ironically, Miller was prepared for Kennedy's. When JFK came into office, he asked Miller to plan state funerals for the living past presidents and five-star generals.
Of course, there are the other times. Once, when the band was playing for a ceremony for the Romanian head of state, a protocol staffer came over and told Miller, "Whoops, wrong tune." Turned out the band had asked someone at the Romanian embassy who should have known, but didn't, that the country had a new national anthem. The band hastily obtained the correct music, "and as I recall, we played it three or four times later that day, to show we really knew," Miller said.
After "the captains and the kings depart," Miller says he believes the ceremony for "the little soldier, with six body-bearers and a seven-or-eight member firing party and a bugler" deserves equal respect from his office.
One of his own favorite ceremonies was the military wedding he arranged for his daughter Ann, who married Lt. (now Capt.) James J. Hays. Miller and his wife, Marie, who's learned to spend holidays by herself, have two other daughters, Kathleen Schaag and Alexandra Miller, a son, Paul D. Miller, and two grandchildren.
Miller enlisted in the Nebraska National Guard in 1937 when he was 16 and was commissioned in August 1942. He served in Africa and Italy, participated in two amphibious landings, was a prisoner of war after being captured at Anzio and was awarded the silver and bronze stars.
So what is Miller going to do once the music stops? Well, he's going to write a book about military ceremonies on his computer. And he's "going to watch a lot of ceremonies where I won't have to worry."