Today marks the 77th anniversary of Doris Miller’s death
Doris “Dorie” Miller (October 12, 1919 – November 24, 1943) was a Ship’s cook Third Class that the United States Navy noted for his bravery during the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. He was the first African American to be awarded the Navy Cross, the third highest honor awarded by the U.S. Navy at the time, after the Medal of Honor and the Navy Distinguished Service Medal. The Navy Cross now precedes the Navy Distinguished Service Medal.Miller’s acts were heavily publicized in the black press, making him the iconic emblem of the war for blacks and was their “Number One Hero” and so energized black support for the war effort against a colored Japanese enemy.Nearly two years after Pearl Harbor, he was killed in action when USS Liscome Bay was sunk by a Japanese submarine during the Battle of Makin.
After a boyhood of farming and football in Waco, Texas, Doris “Dorie” Miller enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1939. He was 19 and wanted to see the world and earn some money to send home.
Miller joined the Navy as a mess attendant, third class, but was soon promoted to second class, then first class, and finally to ship’s cook, third class
On December 7, 1941, Miller awoke at 0600. After serving breakfast mess, he was collecting laundry when at 0757 Lieutenant Commander Shigeharu Murata from the Japanese carrier Akagi launched the first of nine torpedoes that would hit the West Virginia.
When the “Battle Stations” alarm went off, Miller headed for his battle station, an anti-aircraft battery magazine amidship, only to discover that a torpedo had destroyed it.
He went then to Times Square, a central spot where the fore to aft and port to starboard passageways crossed, and reported himself available for other duty. Lieutenant Commander Doir C. Johnson, the ship’s communications officer, spotted Miller and saw the potential of his powerful build, and ordered him to accompany him to the bridge to assist with moving the ship’s captain, Mervyn Bennion, who had a gaping wound in his abdomen, where he had apparently been hit by shrapnel. Miller and another sailor lifted the skipper and, unable to remove him from the bridge, carried him from his exposed position on the damaged bridge to a sheltered spot behind the conning tower. The captain refused to leave his post, questioned his officers about the condition of the ship, and gave orders.
Lieutenant Frederic H. White ordered Miller to help him and Ensign Victor Delano load the unmanned #1 and #2 Browning .50 caliber anti-aircraft machine guns aft of the conning tower. Miller was not familiar with the machine gun, but White and Delano told him what to do. Miller had served both men as a room steward and knew them well. Delano expected Miller to feed ammunition to one gun, but his attention was diverted, and when he looked again, Miller was firing one of the guns. White had loaded ammunition into both guns and assigned Miller the starboard gun.
Miller fired the gun until he ran out of ammunition, when he was ordered by Lieutenant Claude V. Ricketts, along with Lieutenant White and Chief Signalman A.A. Siewart, to help carry the captain up to the navigation bridge out of the thick oily smoke generated by the many fires on and around the ship.
Bennion was only partially conscious at this point, and died soon afterward. Japanese aircraft eventually dropped two armor-piercing bombs through the deck of the battleship and launched five 18 in (460 mm) aircraft torpedoes into her port side. When the attack finally lessened, Miller helped move injured sailors through oil and water to the quarterdeck, thereby unquestionably saving the lives of a number of people who might otherwise have been lost
The ship was heavily damaged by bombs, torpedoes and resulting explosions and fires, but the crew prevented her from capsizing by counter-flooding a number of compartments. Instead, the West Virginia sank to the harbor bottom as her surviving crew, including Miller, abandoned ship.
“It wasn’t hard,” said Miller shortly after the battle. “I just pulled the trigger and she worked fine. I had watched the others with these guns. I guess I fired her for about 15 minutes. I think I got one of those Jap planes. They were diving pretty close to us.”
Just days after the attack, Miller was transferred to the U.S.S. Indianapolis, on the 15th of December.
In May 1942 he became the first African American to receive the Navy Cross, presented for courage under fire.
Miller continued to serve in the Pacific and was reassigned in 1943 to a new escort carrier, the U.S.S.Liscome Bay. Early on November 24, 1943, off Butaritari island, in the South Pacific, a Japanese submarine’s torpedo ripped into the Liscome. The torpedo detonated a bomb magazine, sinking the ship within minutes and eventually killing 646 of its 918 sailors, including Dorie Miller.
Miller’s sacrifices afforded him a reputation far above his rank. In honor of those sacrifices, the U.S. Navy in 1973 commissioned a new frigate–the U.S.S.Miller.
Doris Miller was played by Cuba Gooding, Jr., in the 2001 ,Michael Bay movie,Pearl Harbor.
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