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"Dorie" Miller

Doris Miller after being presented with the Navy Cross
Doris Miller after being presented with the Navy Cross. (Credit: Navy Photo ID: 80-G-408456, National Archives)


Within minutes aboard the USS West Virginia on December 7, 1941, Doris Miller, an African-American sailor, went from serving as the ship’s cook to a war hero when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

Miller woke up on the West Virginia at 6 a.m., and was collecting laundry when the alarm for general quarters sounded. He rushed to his battle station in the battery magazine, only to discover that torpedo damage had wrecked his station.

He went on deck, and it was then that Miller showed true leadership and courage: He manned a 50-caliber Browning anti-aircraft machine gun and fired at Japanese airplanes until he ran out of ammunition and was ordered to abandon ship.

USS West Virginia battleship was hit by two bombs and seven torpedoes during the Pearl Harbor attack.
USS West Virginia battleship was hit by two bombs and seven torpedoes during the Pearl Harbor attack. (Credit: U.S. Navy)
Miller described firing the machine gun during the battle, a weapon which he had not been trained to operate: "It wasn't hard. I just pulled the trigger and she worked fine. I had watched the others with these guns. I guess I fired her for about fifteen minutes. I think I got one of those Jap planes. They were diving pretty close to us."

During the attack, Japanese aircraft dropped two armored piercing bombs through the deck of the battleship and launched five 18-inch aircraft torpedoes into her port side. Of the 1,541 men on the USS West Virginia during the attack, 130 were killed and 52 wounded. Subsequently refloated, repaired, and modernized, the battleship served in the Pacific theater through to the end of the war in August 1945.

Miller was commended by the Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox on 1 April 1942, and on May, 27 1942 when he received the Navy Cross, presented to Miller on board aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6) for his extraordinary courage in battle. The commendation marked the first time in this conflict that such high tribute had been made in the Pacific Fleet to an African-American.

Doris Miller receives the Navy Cross medal for heroism on board USS West Virginia (BB-48) during the Pearl Harbor Attack.
Doris Miller receives the Navy Cross medal for heroism on board USS West Virginia (BB-48) during the Pearl Harbor Attack. (Credit: Official U.S. Navy Photo ID: 80-G-23588, National Archives)

Miller, known as "Dorie" to shipmates and friends, was a fullback on his high school football team, and worked on his father's farm before enlisting in the U.S Navy as Mess Attendant, Third Class, in 1939 to travel, and earn money for his family. In addition to the Navy Cross, Miller was entitled to the Purple Heart Medal; the American Defense Service Medal, Fleet Clasp; the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal; and the World War II Victory Medal. Miller was also the ship's heavyweight boxing champ on board the USS West Virginia.

Miller was killed on November, 24 1943 in the line of duty while serving in action on board the USS Liscome Bay (CVE-56) during Operation Galvanic, (the seizure of Makin and Tarawa Atolls in the Gilbert Islands). In 1973, the USS Miller (FF-1091), a Knox-class frigate, was named in honor of Doris Miller.

Miller’s niece, Vicky Miller, paid tribute to her uncle in an essay she wrote in 2009. “Lest we forget,when Doris Miller gave of himself to protect and defend America in the United States Navy, his efforts were so all Americans might live.”

 

 
 
 
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