I always found it paradoxical that George S. Patton could chase Pancho Villa into Mexico with John J. Pershing, fight in World War I, become a general and crush the Nazis during World War II and then, after Germany's surrender, die in a car crash.
The story of Modesto resident David Miller is a similar paradox, except that his battlegrounds were more personal -- operating rooms and doctors offices -- and his staff car was a Honda Valkyrie motorcycle.
Miller had open-heart surgery 20 years ago to implant a mechanical valve. Five years later, he had a heart transplant.
In 2006, while dealing with kidney disease, he got West Nile virus.
Then, while many other folks spent April 15 rushing to finish their tax returns, Miller had a kidney transplant, a windfall profit from a very close friend.
So you might suspect if anything threatened his well-being, it would have been one of his pre-existing conditions, not a green Honda Civic on Tully Road.
"His kidney was getting back in good shape," friend Benny Melchor said. "He was doing OK. He was looking forward to going back to visit his family in Ohio."
On May 30, Miller was riding north on Tully Road. A woman in a Honda Civic pulled out of the Raley's parking lot onto Tully. Her car struck Miller's motorcycle, sending him crashing to the pavement.
He wore a helmet, but it was one of the smaller "beanie" types that protected the top of his head and little else. He suffered critical head injuries. Six days later, with family and friends at his bedside at Doctors Medical Center, he was taken off life support.
Melchor believes that if Miller, 45, could have chosen the way he'd die, it would have been in the saddle of the Valkyrie.
"It was fitting," Melchor said.
His motorcycle and love for the open road defined him. Transplants and physical ailments did not.
"Yeah, that was his life," said Chris Miller, David's older brother by six years. "That was the one thing he had to look forward to. He went on lots of cross-country trips."
To Canada, the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas. To Death Valley, making a 100-mile side trip to Pahrump, Nev., to get dialysis treatments on the way home.
To see his family in Ohio, where he grew up before moving to the Central Valley in 1985.
"His favorite place was Arches National Park (in Utah)," Chris Miller said. "He went there several times."
David Miller was born in New Jersey in 1963. The family moved to Ravenna, a small Ohio town between Cleveland and Akron, in time for him to begin high school.
Chris Miller joined the Air Force in 1983 and came out west, and David followed two years later.
"He had a little high blood pressure and couldn't get into the Air Force," said Chris, now an electrical engineering technician for the Turlock Irrigation District.
One day in 1989 or so, David used one of the machines in a store pharmacy to check his blood pressure. It was abnormally low.
"He knew something was up," Chris Miller said. "He went back to the doctor."
David Miller had surgery to emplace the mechanical valve. It bought him some time but overworked his heart, his brother said.
"It was working the heart too much and it got too big," he said.
Fearing the worst, their mother, Catherine, was at the airport in Cleveland preparing to fly West to see him when a donor heart became available.
"He ended up getting a transplant that day," Chris Miller said.
David Miller eventually got back to the point where he rode bicycles as well as motorcycles. In fact, none of his physical problems stopped him from his motorcycle excursions, from making his living in the sign business for 20 years or from playing music. He was a guitarist in a local band called Yolks that included drummer Renee Wilson.
"We just played little coffee shops and Graceada Park a few times," Wilson said. "Mostly, we played for our own amusement."
The heart transplant, however, left a residual effect that came into play when his kidneys began to fail and when he contracted West Nile in 2006. The anti-rejection medications needed for the replacement heart hindered the way doctors could treat him for the mosquito-borne virus. It took him a year to get over West Nile.
"He still walked with kind of a limp, but he did recover," Chris Miller said.
David Miller went on dialysis in 2007 and got his new kidney two months ago. Yet none of his ailments could to do him what the bumper of a green Honda did while he was on his Valkyrie.
"He lived for that bike," Melchor said.
He ultimately died on it, too. Such a paradox.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at 578-2383 or firstname.lastname@example.org