Two Heroes, Two Wars, One Memory

Daniel Bedinger was born to Henry Bedinger and Mary Slagle near Bedford, Va. , sometime in 1760; no one knows the exact date.  In 1774, his two older brothers left the family farm to join Gen. George Washington’s Continental Army that was assembling at Fort Washington outside New York City. Fourteen-year-old Daniel stayed behind, but a year later he walked the entire 430 miles separating him from his brothers. He lied about his age, and became Pvt. Bedinger.

Pvt. Bedinger saw his first action on Nov. 14, 1776, when the British attacked Fort Washington. Surviving records show that the 15-year-old fired his musket 17 times, and anecdotal reports have him yelling, “Take that, you bastards!” with every shot. Before that first battle was over, one brother had lost his fingers, nearly all his friends were dead, and Pvt. Bedinger was a prisoner of the Redcoats.

Pvt. Bedinger was given the choice of joining the British army or being interred on a rotting prison ship anchored in New York Harbor. He chose the latter, and when a prisoner exchange took place several months later, he was one of only 27 surviving members of his company of the 79 originally captured.

Instead of going home, the 15-year-old returned to Washington ’s army and was awarded a commission for his bravery.

Eight months later at the Battle of Brandywine, on Sept. 11, 1777, Lt. Bedinger was captured again. This time he remained in captivity for two long years before being exchanged. Following his release, now 20-year-old Lt. Bedinger was promoted to Captain, and joined Gen. Daniel Morgan to fight in the Battle at Cowpens in South Carolina on Jan. 17, 1781, where he materially assisted in defeating Gen. Charles Lord Cornwallis’s much superior forces commanded by Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton.

Promoted to Major, Daniel Bedington married Sarah Rutherford in Apr. 1791, ten years after his heroic participation in the Battle at Cowpens. Daniel and Sarah had two girls, Elizabeth two years later, and Henrietta seven years after that. The Major eventually retired with honors to his home in Bedford, and lived to see the birth of his first grandchild and namesake, Daniel Bedinger Washington, in 1814. He died peaceably in his 58th year in 1818.

From private to major, a survivor with the guts to return to battle again and again, a hero among heroes, and yet you probably never heard of Daniel Bedinger before today.

Patrick Miller was a 23-year-old welder living in Valley Center, Kans. , with his wife Jessa, 4-year-old-son Tyler, and 7-month-old daughter Makenzie. He joined the Army last summer to pay off his student loans, and found himself a proud member of the 507th Maintenance Co. based at Fort Bliss, in El Paso, Tex. Shortly thereafter, the 507th was deployed with the 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade in Iraq.

On Mar. 23, twenty members of the 507th were ambushed by civilian-clothed Iraqi forces near An Nasiriyah, Iraq, on the fourth day of battle. The soldiers were supplying the 3rd Infantry Division in its drive to Baghdad in central Iraq when they took a wrong turn. Miller was driving with Pfc. Brandon Sloan and Sgt. James Riley when enemy fire struck and killed Sloan and disabled their truck.

Miller jumped out of his truck and took cover behind it. He fired several bursts of automatic fire at a mortar position that he believed was about to open fire on his convoy, but then his weapon jammed. Miller continued firing, feeding rounds into the chamber by hand, providing a layer of protective fire to keep his wounded comrades alive. He continued firing until it became obvious that further resistance would result in all their deaths. According to Miller, there “ … were too many of them to use bayonets.” Miller killed nine Iraqis before his own capture.

Miller’s Iraqi captors found slips of paper in his helmet that actually were the communication frequencies for his and other units. The demanded to know what the numbers represented. Miller immediately answered that they were just prices for water pumps, after which his captors threw both his helmet and the slips of paper into their fire.

Miller and his comrades were held captive for three weeks before they were rescued by a company of marines on Apr. 13.

The Army handed out over three dozen medals to members ambushed that day. Miller was awarded a Purple Heart, A Prisoner of War Medal, and a Silver Star for bravery under fire.

He has told reporters that he is not sure why he was singled out for this third highest award.

Miller, is now assigned to the 2nd Transportation Co., 68th Corps Support Battalion, 43rd Area Support Group, in Fort Carson, Colo.

Miller and Bedinger each came from humble origins, each joined up for mundane, non-political, non-heroic reasons, and each rose to the challenge. When called upon by accident of time and place, what Miller and Bedinger have in common is uncommon valor.

The ideals of Thomas Jefferson and Tom Paine were victorious only because of Virginia farm boys like Daniel Bedinger. Their legacy has been victorious once again only because of regular guys like Patrick Miller. There is no holiday for Daniel Bedinger, no postage stamp, no poem, no monument. What will be Patrick Miller’s legacy? I do not know.

Another soldier, Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, told his troops before the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, “This is a different kind of Army. … We’re an Army going out to set other men free.” Because of soldiers like Daniel Bedinger and Patrick Miller –  222 years and seven major wars apart – the U.S. Army continues to enjoy a rich legacy of ordinary American soldiers rising to the challenge of battle, in ways that should inspire us all.

Robert G. Williscroft is DefenseWatch Navy Editor

Submariner, diver, scientist, author & adventurer. 22 mos underwater, a yr in the equatorial Pacific, 3 yrs in the Arctic, and a yr at the South Pole. BS Marine Physics & Meteorology, PhD in Engineering. Authors non-fiction, Cold War thrillers, and hard science fiction. Lives in Centennial, CO.

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