Doris "Dorie" Miller (October 12, 1919 – November 24, 1943) was a cook in the United States Navy noted for his bravery during the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. He was the first African American to be awarded the Navy Cross, the third highest honor awarded by the US Navy at the time, after the Medal of Honor and the Navy Distinguished Service Medal (today the Navy Cross precedes the Distinguished Service Medal).
Miller was born in Waco, Texas, on October 12, 1919, to Henrietta and Connery Miller. He was the third of four sons and grew up in a strong and loving household. He enjoyed playing with his brothers but was also a considerate child. He often helped around the house, cooking meals and doing laundry, as well as working the fields. Miller was a good student and a fullback on the football team at Waco's A.J. Moore High School. They called him the "Raging Bull" because of his size (5 ft 9 in, over 200 lb - 1,75 m, over 90 kg).
Read more about Dorie Miller, free from the U.S. Navy.
He worked on his father's farm until enlisting in the United States Navy as Mess Attendant, Third Class in September 1939. Following training at the Naval Training Station, Norfolk, Virginia, Miller was assigned to the ammunition ship USS Pyro where he served as a Mess Attendant, and on January 2, 1940 was transferred to USS West Virginia, where he became the ship's heavyweight boxing champion. In July of that year he had temporary duty aboard USS Nevada at Secondary Battery Gunnery School. He returned to the USS West Virginia on August 3, 1941.
Attack on Pearl Harbor
On December 7, 1941, Miller awoke at 6:00 A.M. and was collecting laundry when the alarm for general quarters was sounded. He headed for his battle station, the antiaircraft battery magazine amidship, only to discover that torpedo damage had destroyed it. He went on deck where he was assigned to carry wounded fellow sailors to safer locations. When Captain Mervyn Bennion was injured by a bomb splinter, an officer ordered Miller to the bridge to help in the effort to move him to a place of relative safety. Miller picked him up and attempted to carry him to a first-aid station; the Captain refused to leave his post and remained on the bridge until his death.
When directed to assist in loading a pair of unattended Browning .50 caliber anti-aircraft guns, Miller took control of one and began firing at the Japanese planes, even though he had no training in operating the weapon. He fired the gun until he ran out of ammunition. Japanese aircraft eventually dropped two armor-piercing bombs through the deck of the battleship and launched 5 × 18 in. (457 mm) aircraft torpedoes into her port side. Heavily damaged by the ensuing explosions, and suffering from severe flooding below decks, the West Virginia slowly settled to the harbor bottom as her crew—including Miller—abandoned ship. Miller was commended by the Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox on April 1, 1942, and on May 27, 1942 he received the Navy Cross, which Fleet Admiral (then Admiral) Chester W. Nimitz, the Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet presented to Miller on board aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6) for his extraordinary courage in battle.
World War II
Miller’s rank was raised to Mess Attendant First Class on June 1. On June 27, The Pittsburgh Courier called for Miller to be allowed to return home for a war bond tour like white heroes. The following November 23, Miller arrived at Pearl Harbor, and was ordered on a war bond tour while still attached to USS Indianapolis. In December and January 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.
The Pittsburgh Courier continued to hammer to return Miller for a war bond tour in the February 6, 1943 issue. The caption to Miller’s photo read, "He fought...Keeps Mop", while another hero of Pearl Harbor got a commission. It said that Miller was "too important waiting tables in the Pacific to return him", even though he was already on tour.
Doris Miller reported for duty at Puget Sound Navy Yard on May 15, 1943. His rank was again raised, to Petty Officer, Ship's Cook Third Class on June 1, and he reported to USS Liscome Bay, an escort aircraft carrier. After training in Hawaii for the Gilbert Islands operation, the Liscome Bay participated in the Battle of Tarawa beginning November 20. On November 24, a single torpedo from Japanese submarine I-175 struck the escort carrier near the stern. The aircraft bomb magazine detonated a few moments later, sinking the warship within minutes. There were 242 survivors. The rest of the crew was listed as "presumed dead". On December 7, 1943, PO Miller's parents were notified 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 Miller. On November 25, 1944, the Secretary of the Navy announced that Miller was "presumed dead."
Miller's face adorned the U.S. Navy recruiting poster "above and beyond the call of duty". In 1942, Miller's actions were dramatized on the CBS radio series They Live Forever. He was portrayed by Elven Havard in the 1970 film Tora! Tora! Tora!, and in 2001 he was portrayed by Cuba Gooding Jr. in the film Pearl Harbor.
In 2007, the historian Bill O'Neal published Doris Miller: Hero of Pearl Harbor.