Doris Miller, known as “Dorie” to shipmates and friends, was born in Waco, Texas in October 1919.
He helped his parents and three brothers around the house by cooking meals and doing laundry, as well as working on the family farm. Miller was a good student and a fullback on the football team at Waco’s A.J. Moore High School. He was 6 feet 3 inches tall and weighed over 200 pounds.
In September 1939, shortly before his 20th birthday, Miller enlisted in the U.S Navy as Mess Attendant, to travel, and earn money for his family. Promoted to cook, he transferred to USS West Virginia where he became the ship’s heavyweight boxing champion. He was serving on that battleship when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
When Miller heard the “Battle Stations” alarm on that early Sunday morning, he headed for the antiaircraft battery magazine amid-ship. But torpedo damage had wrecked it, so he went on deck. Because of his strong build, he was assigned to carry wounded fellow sailors to safety. Then an officer sent him to the bridge to aid the mortally wounded Captain of the ship.
He took the initiative to man a 50 caliber Browning anti-aircraft machine gun, a weapon he had never been trained to operate:
Miller described firing the machine gun during the battle:
“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.”
He fired until he ran out of ammunition.
The Japanese planes dropped two armor-piercing bombs through the deck of the battleship and five torpedoes into her side. Miller helped move injured sailors through oil and water to the quarterdeck, “unquestionably saving the lives of a number of people who might otherwise have been lost.”
With heavy damage and flooded decks, the crew abandoned ship. The West Virginia slowly settled to the harbor bottom.
Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet, personally presented the Navy Cross to Miller on May 27, 1942 on board aircraft carrier USS Enterprise. He was the first African American to be awarded the Navy Cross, at the time the third-highest Navy award for extraordinary courage in battle. The citation reads:
“For distinguished devotion to duty, extraordinary courage and disregard for his own personal safety during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, by Japanese forces on December 7, 1941.”
“While at the side of his Captain on the bridge, Miller, despite enemy strafing and bombing and in the face of a serious fire, assisted in moving his Captain, who had been mortally wounded, to a place of greater safety, and later manned and operated a machine gun directed at enemy Japanese attacking aircraft until ordered to leave the bridge.”
Nimitz also remarked:
“This marks the first time in this conflict that such high tribute has been made in the Pacific Fleet to a member of his race and I’m sure that the future will see others similarly honored for brave acts.”
In addition to the Navy Cross, Miller, recognized as one of the “first US heroes of World War II,” became 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.
CBS radio broadcast an episode of the series “They Live Forever,” which dramatized Miller’s actions.
In 1973, a Knox-class frigate, the USS Miller, was named in honor of American war hero, Doris “Dorie” Miller.
Pretty good for a young Waco, Texas farmer and cook.
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