It was November 1965 during the middle of the Vietnam War. The Johnson City Press had just printed a list of local servicemen fighting in the war, and each member of Telford Methodist Church’s Sunday school class was assigned five names to mail Christmas cards to.
Kay McCracken mailed out all her Christmas cards, with the hope of boosting the troops’ morale, but only received one letter back.
It was from (Ret.) Sgt. Luther Miller, a native of Andrews, Texas, who was stationed in Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam. Miller had enlisted in the U.S. Army as a signal repair parts specialist.
“We were getting Christmas cards from everywhere. Some of them would just say ‘to an American solider.’ Then we would get some ... well, I guess hers is the only one that came to me, other than family, that had an address on it,” Miller said.
“I wrote her back (and) thanked her for sending the card. I said, ‘If you’re not married, engaged or going steady, I’d like to write.’ So we started writing. I guess it was about the second or third letter that we sent pictures.”
McCracken said she thought it was longer than that, because she remembers wondering for a long time what he looked like.
“We wrote for almost two years,” McCracken said.
Head over heels in love with a woman, who he’d never met, Miller was stuck in a war zone, serving his country during the prime of his life.
“I’m going to say she almost got a letter before (my) family did,” Miller, who was 20 years old at the time, recalled.
“Everyday, when I would come in for lunch, the first place I went was my bunk because they’d come through and throw your mail on your bunk. That was the first place I went to. That was the highlight of my day was getting the mail call.”
The pen pals could not recall how many letters they exchanged during those two years, but McCracken is confident she sent the majority.
“I’d say I got a letter from her, if not every other day, every third day. She did write a lot. Of course, with me, it was hard keeping paper dry. So I’d just have to do my best to get paper,” Miller said.
“I always tried to write him, because even if I didn’t say anything but, ‘How was your day?’ or something like that, I knew it would help him,” McCracken said.
Finally, on Sept. 16, 1967, Miller took a 30-day leave from Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and came back home with plans to finally meet Kay.
“What really sealed the case was when I got home, my family was having a big family reunion down at (David) Crockett Birthplace State Park. So I called her on the phone, told her I was home and that I’d like to meet her. I told her what was going on,” Miller said.
“That afternoon, when she showed up at my house, I saw her when she pulled up. I came out on the front porch, and when she got out of the car and started walking up to the porch, I thought to myself, ‘Man, there is a lady.’ I said, ‘I’m going to marry her.’
“Knowing she was going to a reunion, she didn’t show up in jeans or shorts and a t-shirt. She was dressed like she was going to meet someone important ... me,” said Miller, with a broad smile across his face.
The next time he took a leave from the military, in February 1968, Miller asked McCracken to marry him.
Another six months later, Kay remembers dressing up like she was going to work at Washington College Academy, but instead of actually going to work as a secretary, Miller picked his fiancé up and the two drove to Gate City, Virginia, to get married without either of their parents’ knowledge.
Back then, there was a three-day waiting period to get married in Tennessee.
“We didn’t tell anybody, except the other secretary at school and my boss, because I had to get off,” McCracken said. “So they had to cover for me and everything.”
“I was sitting car in my driveway with the marriage license in my hand,” Miller said. “I’m the proudest dude in Johnson City, and I hear somebody say, ‘What in the world did you do!’ I turned and looked and it was my mother.
“She was very, very upset. ‘You didn’t think that maybe we’d want to be there?’ I said momma, I’m sorry.”
In 1999, Miller made up to his mother and family. The couple held a ceremony and rededicated their vows, but this time, the entire family was invited.
Luther and Kay Miller now have two sons, five grandchildren and one great grandchild. Earlier this year, the two took a vacation to see one of their grandchildren, who is stationed in Hawaii.
For their 50th anniversary together, the Millers have special plans to celebrate where their journey started, David Crockett Birthplace State Park. Sure enough, Kay will be dressed like she’s going to meet someone important.