Dorie Miller (1919-1943), was the 1st African American man awarded the U.S. Navy Cross to acknowledge his heroic efforts when the battleship of West Virginia was attacked at Pearl Harbor.
Doris Miller, known as “Dorie,”was born in Waco, Texas, in 1919. He was one of four sons. After high school, he worked on his father’s farm until 1938 when he enlisted in the Navy as a mess attendant (kitchen worker) to earn money for his family. Unfortunately, at the time the Navy was segregated so combat positions were not open to African Americans. Yet, Dorie went against all odds by proving that African American men had the ability to serve in combat equal in skill to any man regardless of race. On December 7, 1941, Dorie arose at 6 a.m. to serve breakfast aboard USS West Virginia when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Dorie, immediately reported to his assigned battle station and began moving the ship’s Captain to safety who was brutally wounded. Miller then returned to deck and noticed that the Japanese planes were still dive-bombing the U.S. Navy Fleet. As a result, he picked up a 50 caliber Browning anti-aircraft machine gun without any professional training and managed to shoot down three to four enemy aircraft. With great bravery he fired until he ran out of ammunition, by then the men were being ordered to abandon ship as the West Virginia slowly began to sink.
Shortly after, the Pittsburgh Courier , one of the country’s most widely circulated black newspapers sent a reporter out to recognize and honor Miller’s bravery. On April 1, 1942 Miller was commended by the Secretary of the Navy, Frank Knox, and on May 27, 1942 he received the Navy Cross for his extraordinary courage in battle. In fact, Miller’s rank was raised to Mess Attendant First Class on June 1, 1942. Dorie Miller was later sent on tour in the States to raise money for war bonds, but he was called back in the Spring of 1943 to serve on the new escort carrier known as the USS Liscome Bay. The ship was operating in the Pacific near the Gilbert Islands. at 5:10 a.m. on November 24, the ship was brutally hit by a single torpedo fired from a Japanese submarine. The torpedo lead to a massive bomb explosion in minutes. Miller was initially listed as missing; by November 1944 and his status was changed to “resumed dead.” Only 272 men survived the attack.
Because of Dorie Miller commendable sacrifices for his country there is a Dorie Miller park in Hawaii and several schools and buildings that are named throughout the U.S. to exemplify his valiant temperament during such a monumental event in history.
The Claude Pepper Library Celebrates the Legacy and Life of Dorie Miller and Salutes him for his bravery.
Claude Pepper Library Associate