By Samuel J. Cox Rear Adm., USN (retired) Director of Naval History, Curator for the Navy Director, Naval History and Heritage Command
It is with deep regret I inform you of the passing of Rear Admiral William Owen “Dusty” Miller, Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps, U.S. Navy (Retired), on 15 June 2021, at age 95. Dusty Miller enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve in January 1943, was commissioned an ensign in June 1946, and served as a JAG Corps officer until his retirement in 1978 as the judge advocate general of the Navy.
In July 1943, Dusty Miller enlisted in the Naval Reserve, attending Mercer College, Macon, Georgia, in the V-12 program (a Reserve officer program). In March 1944, he reported to Naval Air Station Dallas, Texas, for tarmac training in the V-5 Naval Aviation Cadet program. In May 1944, he reported to the Naval Flight Preparatory School (NFPS) in Natchitoches, Louisiana. In August 1944, he continued flight training at NFPS in Athens, Georgia. In October 1944, he returned to Mercer University in the V-12 program. In June 1945, he enrolled at the University of South Carolina in Columbia as the V-12 program transitioned to the Naval Reserve Officer Training Program (NROTC). He was commissioned an ensign on 5 June 1946; however, in the rapid post-war draw-down, there were no billets and he went into the inactive Naval Reserve. During this period, he earned a bachelor of law degree from Atlanta Law School and practiced law in the Atlanta Area. On 5 June 1949, he was promoted to lieutenant (j.g.) in the inactive reserve.
During the Korean War, Lieutenant (j.g.) Miller was activated. In February 1951, he was assigned to the Naval Security Station, Washington, DC, in what at the time was classified activity in support of the U.S. Navy Security Group (signals intelligence work). He was promoted to lieutenant in June 1952. In January 1953, Lieutenant Miller reported to the Naval Justice School for duty under instruction. In March 1953, he was assigned as assistant staff legal officer for Commander, Naval Forces Philippines. In January 1955, he returned to Washington and was assigned to the Office of the Judge Advocate General (OJAG) as an appellate defense counsel. He was promoted to lieutenant commander in April 1958.
In April 1956, Lieutenant Commander Miller was assigned to the Office of JAG W.C. as appellate defense counsel serving on the U.S. Navy Physical Disability Appeals Board. In February 1959, his service at JAG W.C. continued as the head of the Appellate Government Counsel Branch and head of the Litigation Division. In July 1959, he reported to the Naval Justice School as the head of all officer academic departments. In February 1962, he attended the Armed Forces Staff College in Norfolk, graduating in July 1962. Lieutenant Commander Miller then returned to the Office of the Judge Advocate General as an administrative law attorney, executive assistant to the judge advocate general, and international law attorney. He was promoted to commander in December 1962.
In June 1965, Commander Miller reported as assistant district legal officer to the Commander, 14th Naval District (Pearl Harbor). In June 1966, he was assigned as assistant fleet legal officer to Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet, at Pearl Harbor. In April 1968, he was promoted to captain.
I do not have dates for his captain assignments, but he served as legal advisor to the director of the joint staff, office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and then as deputy assistant judge advocate of the Navy for international law and then administrative law. He was then assigned as director of legislation and selected policies in the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military Personnel Policy, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manpower and Reserve Affairs. At some point, he attended the Naval War College, and earned master’s degrees in international affairs and public policy from the George Washington University.
He was promoted to rear admiral in 1974 and served as deputy judge advocate of the Navy from 1974 to 1976, and then judge advocate general of the Navy from 1976 to 1978, when he retired.
Rear Admiral Miller’s awards include the Meritorious Service Medal, Joint Service Commendation Medal, Navy Commendation Medal, American Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal, National Defense Service Medal and Naval Reserve Medal.
Following retirement from active duty, Rear Admiral Miller practiced law in the Atlanta area from 1978 to 1990. He was president of the Southeastern Legal Foundation, a non-profit conservative advocacy center, from 1985–90. He was an active member of the Kiwanis Club, served on the board of directors of the Federal Defender Program, and served on the Technical High School (his alma mater in Atlanta) Scholarship Committee. He was a supporter of the Wounded Warrior Project. He was also the author of several scholarly articles such as “Law of Naval Warfare,” published in the U.S. Naval War College’s International Law Studies journal in January 1980 (and republished in 2018). He also co-authored a book, A European Sojourn 1943–1945: An Autobiography of Pvt. Frederick O. Scheer, Serial No 14118781: as Recounted to Rear Admiral William O. Miller, JAGC, USN, first published in 1999.
A service was held on 22 June 2021 at Eastview Cemetery, Georgia.
Rear Admiral Dusty Miller served our Navy and nation with great distinction, volunteering to serve during the largest war in our history. The Navy sent him to get educated and become an officer instead—by which time the war was over. Dedicated to the Navy, he nevertheless stayed in the inactive reserve and earned a law degree. He was reactivated during the Korean War, serving stateside in a classified intelligence billet before commencing his stellar career in the JAG Corps. He did everything expected of a JAG Corps officer—appellate law, litigation, international law, administrative law, and more, rising through his talent and extraordinary leadership to lead the entire JAG community, first as deputy and then judge advocate general of the Navy. He led the community during the very challenging post–Vietnam War period of fiscal austerity and rapid social changes, while the Cold War continued unabated. He was described as a “wise and experienced friend and counselor who stimulated and encouraged lively debate.” After retirement, he continued to practice law, helping those less fortunate. He was a neighborhood fixture on his front porch for years, holding court with anyone who wanted to chat. A true mentor to many in the JAG Corps, many commanders—and the Navy—benefited greatly from his wise counsel in an ever increasingly complex legal environment. His legacy will live on.