This is from War History OnLine.
How many more stories like Doris (Dorrie) Miller are going untold or barely being told?
R. I. P. Mess Attendant First Class Doris (Dorrie) Miller,
Mess Attendant First Class Doris “Dorie” Miller was born in Waco, Texas, in 1919, the son of a couple hard-working sharecroppers who had traveled the land working cotton fields. A man who would grow to be one of the more unlikely heroes on one of America’s darkest days, Miller spent every day of his youth on the edge of poverty, just struggling to survive and make ends meet.
In 1939, the 19 year-old Miller enlisted in the Navy. After completing Basic, he was assigned as a Mess Attendant Third Class on the awesomely-named USS Pyro, where he essentially served as a mix between a line cook, a waiter, and housekeeping staff, in the 1930s it was one of the few Navy jobs available to Black sailors, and Miller was damn sure he wanted to serve his country and make some extra money to help provide for his family back home. It didn’t hurt the situation when he was transferred to the battleship USS West Virginia and sent out to enjoy the sunny beaches of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, filled with warm weather, and picturesque palm trees.
But the temporary stay in paradise wouldn’t last long.
At 8am on the morning of 7 December 1941, Mess Attendant Doris Miller was collecting laundry from the bunks when he heard a deafening roar overhead. Two hundred Japanese torpedo planes, fighters, and bombers of every conceivable flavor were bearing down on Hawaii on an insane sneak-attack bombing run that was soon to knock out the bulk of American battleship power in the course of a couple hours, and Miller suddenly found himself in the middle of the biggest battle to hit U.S. since the Civil War.
His first instinct was one that had been drilled into him through months of training – get to your battlestation. Miller’s station was an anti-aircraft battery located on one of the middle decks of the ship, but no sooner did he get there than he realized that a Japanese torpedo had already blown it up, and now there was a huge hunk of twisted metal where there used to be a giant gun. Not one to be discouraged by this, he rushed up to the deck to see if there was anything he could do to help out.
At this point, the situation on the West Virginia was bad. Planes and bombers were shrieking overhead, unleashing their payloads, and Battleship Row was now little more than a goddamned shooting gallery for Japanese aircraft. Once again, Miller sacked up and did what he had to do. The biggest, strongest, toughest man aboard the ship, he immediately started running across the deck, grabbing wounded men and carrying them to safety on the quarterdeck, where the injured sailors and Marines were partially shielded from the machine guns of strafing Zeroes. After pulling a few men to safety, Miller saw that the ships commander – Captain Bennion – had been mortally wounded by a piece of shrapnel. Bennion was still conscious, trying to direct and command his men, and Miller knew he had to get his C.O. off the bridge and to a place where he would be safe. So Doris Miller sprinted across the deck, blitzing through smoke, water, and flaming oil while bullets zinged around him, grabbed the Captain, and carried him to safety as well.
Now, this in and of itself is some seriously epic heroism, but it’s just the beginning of Doris Miller’s courageous cred. After saving the lives of his comrades by pulling them to safety, the heavyweight boxing champion of the USS West Virginia noticed the some of the deck guns were going unmanned, so he rushed over to a giant .50-caliber anti-aircraft machine gun, strapped himself in, and immediately went to work putting a giant curtain of bullets between West Virginia and the Japanese Naval Air Force.
Despite not having any training on how to operate the .50-cal (Miller had plenty of experience working hunting rifles back in Texas, so he figured it out pretty quickly), now the ship’s cook was manning a deck gun, blasting Zeroes out of the sky with a stream of tracer fire from the heavy MG. With planes strafing overhead, bombs going off, and ships getting trashed around him, Miller held his ground for fifteen minutes straight, blasting away from his exposed position. During the battle two armor-piercing bombs blasted the deck of the West Virginia and five 18-inch torpedoes hit the port side, but this guy couldn’t be stopped by anything short of his ammunition supply – he only backed down after he ran out of bullets and his half-dead commanding officer ordered him to abandon ship.
The specific details of Dorie Miller’s efficiency with the .50 cal aren’t well-documented – his kill count ranges from “at least one” to “several” depending on who you ask – but you can’t deny the fact that the men of Pearl Harbor (and the citizens who would hear the story later) were inspired by the bravery of this incredible man who had dropped his chef’s hat, saved the lives of a half-dozen Americans, and then blew the hell out of the enemies that were attacking his battleship. Basically, he was Steven Segal from Under Siege.
Doris Miller survived the attack on Pearl Harbor, as did 1,500 of his fellow crewmen aboard West Virginia. When tales of his heroism reached the people of the U.S., they saw it as one of just a few bright spots amid one of the darkest days in American history.
On December 15, Miller was transferred to the Indianapolis. On January 1, 1942, the Navy released a list of commendations for actions on December 7. Among them was a single commendation for an unnamed Negro. The NAACP asked President Franklin D. Roosevelt to award the Distinguished Service Cross to the unknown Negro sailor. The Navy Board of Awards in Washington D. C. received a recommendation that the sailor be considered for recognition. On March 12, 1942, Dr. Lawrence D. Reddick announced, after corresponding with the Navy, that the name of the unknown Negro sailor was “Doris Miller.” The next day, Senator James N. Mead (D-NY) introduced a Senate Bill to award Miller the Medal of Honor, although he did not yet know the basis for Miller’s deeds. Four days later, Representative John D. Dingell, Sr. introduced a matching bill. On March 21, The African-American newspaper Pittsburgh Courier initiated a write-in campaign to send Miller to the Naval Academy.
Miller was recognized as one of the “first US heroes of World War II.” He was commended in a letter signed by Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox on April 1, and the next day CBS radio broadcast an episode of the series “They Live Forever,” which dramatized Miller’s actions.
Negro organizations began a campaign to give Miller additional recognition. The All-Southern Negro Youth Conference launched a signature campaign on April 17–19. On May 10, the National Negro Congress denounced Knox’s recommendation against awarding Miller the Medal of Honor. On May 11, President Franklin D. Roosevelt approved the Navy Cross for Miller.
On May 27, 1942, Miller was personally recognized by Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet, aboard the aircraft carrier Enterprise. Nimitz presented Miller with the Navy Cross, at the time the second-highest Navy award for gallantry during combat.
The citation reads as follows:
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 said of Miller’s commendation, “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.”
Miller was promoted to Mess Attendant First Class on June 1, 1942. On June, 27, The Pittsburgh Courier called for Miller to be allowed to return home for a war bond tour like white heroes. On November 23, Miller returned to Pearl Harbor and was ordered on a war bond tour while still attached to the heavy cruiser Indianapolis. In December 1942 and January 1943, he gave talks in Oakland, California, in his hometown of Waco, Texas, in Dallas, and to the first graduating class of African-American sailors from Great Lakes Naval Training Station, Chicago.
In its February 6, 1943 issue, the Pittsburgh Courier continued to hammer to return Miller for a war bond tour. The caption to Miller′s photo in the article read, “He fought…Keeps Mop,” while another hero of the Pearl Harbor attack received an officer’s commission. It said that Miller was “too important waiting tables in the Pacific to return him,” even though in fact he was already on tour.
Miller reported for duty at Puget Sound Navy Yard on May 15, 1943. He was made a Petty Officer, Ship′s Cook Third Class, on June 1 when he reported to the escort carrier Liscome Bay.
After training in Hawaii, the Liscome Bay took part in the Battle of Makin Island beginning November 20, 1943. On November 24, the ship was struck in the stern by a torpedo from the Japanese submarine I-175. The aircraft bomb magazine detonated a few moments later, causing the ship to sink within minutes. There were 272 survivors from the crew of over 900, but Miller was not among them. Along with two-thirds of the crew, he was listed as “presumed dead.” On December 7, 1943 — two years after Miller’s heroic actions at Pearl Harbor — his parents were informed that their son was “missing in action.”
A memorial service was held on April 30, 1944, at the Waco, Texas, Second Baptist Church, sponsored by the Victory Club. On May 28, a granite marker was dedicated at Moore High School to honor Doris Miller. On November 25, Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal announced to the public that Miller was “presumed dead