One of La Jolla's own, Gregory "Shortie" Nolan Millard, 22, is among the fallen, having died May 26 along with two companions in Salah Ad Din province, Iraq, of wounds sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated near their vehicle.
Millard was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C. He was an assistant machine gunner who came to the division in March 2005.
He was born April 29, 1985. His family began calling him "Shortie" because, when he was very young, he didn't grow - so the nickname stuck. People would ask why a 6'1" man would be called Shortie, but the family insisted "it just fit."
A family friend, writing of Shortie, said: "a great man should be judged by not always the accomplishments he has made on this earth, but by the lives they've touched in a good way and the friends they've left behind."
At Gregory Millard's funeral with full military honors held June 4 at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, his brother, Jason, thanked the assemblage of 200-plus. "He was a son and a hero," said Jason Millard. "All you had to do was meet him once, and that's all it took to fall in love with him. His smile was unforgettable. He had his life taken for protecting what we love and cherish, to have what we have, do what we do and love what we love. He'll be watching us and wishing us to all aim high. If you have dreams, aim higher: That's what he would want. Honor him, not just now, but every day, take a moment, take an hour, whatever it takes to give him the honor and respect that he deserves."
Millard's fiance, Lacey Martin, talked about how proud she was of Gregory and how much he loved his family. "Greg loved his mom, Jill, so much, he loved her with all of his heart," she said. "And he couldn't show it enough ... He was so precious with her. Jason, his big brother, he looked up to you so much. He wanted to be just like you, a family man. Kevin (father) will always be Greg's hero. He had so much respect for you. All Greg wanted was to make his dad proud. He made us all proud. We're all going to miss you very much. We will never forget you."
"He was a beacon in our lives, his jokes, his friendship, his energy," said Steffen Fernandez, euologizing Millard. "He would always be there for you. It's now our job to be here for him and for each other. Thank you Greg for all you have done for us. In our memories and our love, may you live forever."
Friends and family remember Gregory Millard as being as outgoing as he was outrageous, with mischief perpetually in his eyes and on his face. His frivolity was legion. Enthusiasm was his middle name. It was said if you spent more than a minute with him, he'd have you grinning from ear to ear and half wondering which way the rug was going to be pulled out from under you. He left no one the same as he found them.
Gregory Millard is remembered most as the life of the party, as inviting to newcomers, and as a man who didn't know any strangers. He had the gift of "gab" and made everyone smile. At parties, people crowded around him to listen to his stories and jokes.
Shortie's uncle, Harrison Millard, said his nephew had a "presence" that was tangible. "He commanded the room," he said. "It didn't matter how bad a day you had: He would bring you up. He lived every single day of his life to the fullest."
One of Harrison Millard's fondest remembrances of his nephew was hearing his Volkswagen coming up his driveway with the boom-boom of his car stereo, always making a grand entrance everywhere he went.
"He was always upbeat, happy, had a smile on his face and brightend the room," said Jo-Ellen Palreiro, a La Jolla High School secretary whom Millard worked with as an office monitor. "He was just a great kid."
Millard's JV football coach at La Jolla High, Ken Davis, said he was a good ballplayer and "your average, happy-go-lucky kid. "He was a good, strong, athletic kid who also wrestled," said Davis. "He was liked by a lot of people."
Davis added Shortie was respectful of his teachers and adults, while noting he was funny and a natural clown. "He was never a discipline problem," added Davis. "He had a nice smile."
Davis, who also taught auto shop at La Jolla High, recalls Millard's passion for his vehicle. "He had a big, one-ton truck he'd bring in and work on in the shop," said Davis. "He always had a group of friends with him."
In a letter to the Millard family, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wrote: "Losing a member of our nation's armed forces weighs heavily on the hearts of all Californians. Spc. Gregory Millard's death is a sobering reminder of the human price we pay for our freedom. Maria and I honor Gregory, his family and friends, and offer our condolences for their loss."
In honor of Millard, Schwarzenegger ordered capital flags to be flown at half-staff.
Gregory Millard wanted to join the U.S. Army before Sept. 11, 2001. The tragedy solidified his decision to enlist, and the way Americans stood together afterward made him proud to defend his country. On his few visits home from duty, he couldn't sit still. He visited friends, entertained at home, laughed, joked and remained the good-natured man everyone knew him to be.
Gregory's father, Kevin, has owned California Bicycle on La Jolla Boulevard for more than 30 years.
Gregory Millard was awarded a Bronze Star with Cluster, a Purple Heart, and 15 decorations during his 2 1/2 years in the military.
On behalf of Gregory, the Millard Family has established a Foundation to help support his Army Unit: 2nd Plt, A Co, 2/505 PIR Airborne Division. This Foundation will supply the soldiers with critical safety equipment above and beyond standard issue.
Those wishing to make a donation can make their checks payable to: 2nd Plt, A Co, 2/505 PIR, and mail to Regents Bank, 875 Prospect Street #101, La Jolla, CA 92037, Attn: Steffen Fernandez.
Gregory Millard leaves behind his parents, Kevin and Jill Millard; his brother and sister-in-law Jason and Carolina Millard; his niece Kaila; his fiance Lacey Martin; grandparents Jack Elliot, Jr. and Ann Elliot; great-grandfather Harrison Keith Millard; and his extended family.