PDT Staff Writer
It was the winter of 1965, and Charlie Miller and Mike Gifford were, like a lot of other young men, subject to the Selective Service draft, wanting to be inducted together. After all, there is great security in friendship, especially when you’re leaving the safety of your homes in southern Ohio for parts unknown halfway around the world.
Right on cue both had passed their physicals and were to be inducted.
At that time in addition to his family, Charlie would be leaving something else behind. Charlie was the proud owner of a 1965 Mustang 2 plus 2 high performance Fastback. In short, he was the envy of a lot of guys.
Mike Gifford remembers that day in December very well.
Charlie and Mike were to be inducted in Ashland, Ky., and go on to Fort Knox, Ky. As it turned out, Charlie was to be the only one to continue the journey.
“As my name was called to go to the bus, I was stopped and told that I would be called later,” Gifford said. “Charlie’s name was then called and he went through the door. I remember Charlie turned as he was going through the door, smiled at me and said — ‘Mike, you are so lucky,’” Gifford said.
It would be the last time the two friends would ever see each other. Mike returned home and Charlie eventually traveled to Vietnam where in early 1967 he became one of America’s fallen heroes.
“He gave his life for me because he took my place, and he gave his life for his country,” Gifford said.
Gifford said Charlie’s Mustang remained parked in his mother’s yard for decades. He decided Charlie had been so proud of the car he (Gifford) wanted to do something with it.
Finally, after many years Gifford acquired the Mustang and turned it over to Andy Mann, an Ironton Marine, who, for the next two years, went through the process of rebuilding it completely.
“He rebuilt it to its original state — two four-barrels and all,” Gifford said. “Everything from top to bottom is like Charlie had it and now we can take it to the parades and car shows and remember all of our American heroes.”
Gifford said bonding with the Mustang has given his life new meaning.
“It has changed my life,” Gifford said. “As I have grown older, I find myself remembering there was a young man named Charlie, who took my place and fought for me and this country to keep us free, and now we can show his car.”
The Mustang, which Gifford plans to show at the Pike County Dogwood Festival, is in support of two organizations Gifford is affiliated with — Veterans Helping Veterans and Others, and Living with a Cause.
“We have written him a song, which says in one verse — “Charlie’s Mustang that we drive in parades today belongs to a hero of yesterday. For to Vietnam he did go, with all the other heroes. Their heroism still lives with us today.”
“I heard on the news that possibly 40 percent of street people are people returning from serving our country,” Gifford said. “So why should I complain about giving someone on the street a sandwich. I was standing in the middle of a street in our city collecting money for our veterans, and a car screamed by with a voice saying, ‘go get a job’. A street person came and asked for help as we stood there, and I asked him why he was limping so badly. He replied that he was wounded in the military.”
Gifford said his vision of the man became one of honor as he proudly took the man to a restaurant for dinner.
“His injuries were a product of his fighting for our freedom,” Gifford said. “And it is my duty to help him regardless.”
Gifford credits the death of his friend Charlie Miller with his views of America’s fighting men and women.
“To all in our streets and to Charlie, along with all of our other fallen heroes of all wars, and to you who have defended this country and its freedom, God bless you and God Bless America,” Gifford said.