Remembering Pearl Harbor– December 7, 1941 “A day that will live in infamy”
Doris “Dorie” Miller, an African American sailor, was one of the most unsung American heroes of World War II. His actions during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor helped save many lives and served as an inspiration to countless others.
Miller was born on October 12, 1919, in Waco, Texas. He worked on the family farm with his three brothers until September 16, 1939, when Miller enlisted in the Navy to earn extra money for his family. Miller completed training at the Naval Training Station in Norfolk, Virginia, where he was promoted to Mess Attendant Third Class. This was one of the only positions available to African-Americans at the time, due to Navy segregation.
Following his promotion, Miller was assigned to the USS Pyro, where he served as a mess attendant before being transferred in 1940 to the USS West Virginia. It was there that Miller became the ship’s heavy-weight boxing champion, earning the respect of his compatriots.
On December 7, 1941, Miller woke up early to begin his workday. As he began collecting the ship’s laundry, an alarm from General Quarters sounded. Miller raced for his battle station, the anti-aircraft battery magazine amidships. But when he got to his position, he found it destroyed by torpedo. Miller returned to deck, and because of his physical prowess, was assigned to help carry his fellow wounded sailors to safety. He carried several men to safe quarters, then retrieved the ship’s injured captain, Mervyn Bennion.
Then, without rest, and before being ordered to abandon ship, Miller fired an unmanned .50-caliber Browning anti-aircraft machine gun until it ran out of ammunition. When asked how he managed to fire with such prowess, Miller said, “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.”
The USS West Virginia sank to the bottom of the harbor. Of the ship’s 1,541 men, 130 were killed and 52 wounded. For his actions, Miller was commended by the Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox on April 1, 1942. On May 27, 1942, he was awarded the Navy Cross by the Pacific Fleet’s Commander in Chief, Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz.
On November 24, 1943, a Japanese torpedo struck the USS Liscome Bay off the coast of Buritaritari Island. Two-thirds of the crew died or went missing—including Miller.
Doris Miller’s legacy paved the way for other African-American service members to serve in combat roles. And his likeness was used in Navy recruitment drives, including an iconic World War II enlistment poster featuring the words, “Above and beyond the call of duty.”
In addition to the Navy Cross, Doris Miller received the Purple Heart, the American Defense Service Medal – Fleet Clasp, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal. In 1973, the Knox-class frigate USS Miller was named in his honor.
We honor his service.
More about Miller’s service is at https://www.hilbert.edu/social-justice-activists/doris-(dorie)-miller.