December 7, 2016 marks the 75th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor. This attack by the Imperial Japanese Navy on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii Territory, killed over 2000 Americans and launched the United States into WWII. In commemoration of the bravery of the service men and women that fought, were wounded, and died there, this week Alpha will highlight three of the many heroes of Pearl Harbor.
Today we feature sailor Doris “Dorie” Miller. Miller was a Ship’s Cook, Third Class on the USS West Virginia, one of the ships stationed at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
Miller was born on October 12, 1919 in Waco Texas. He worked on his father’s farm before enlisting in the U.S. Navy at the age of 20 as a Mess Attendant, Third Class. He was motivated by the freedom to travel, as well as provide a steady income for his family at home. Miller was a hard worker, and was eventually recommended by the Secretary of the Navy to advance to Mess Attendant, Second and First Class, and then to the Ship’s Cook, Third Class. Appointed to the USS West Virginia in 1940, he soon gained the ship’s heavyweight boxing champion title.
When the Japanese launched their attack at 7:48 AM on December 7, Miller had just finished serving the crew breakfast. At 7:57 AM, a the first of nine torpedoes hit the West Virginia. The alarm sounded for all crew to report to their battle stations. Miller quickly made his way for his battle station, the antiaircraft battery magazine amidships, only to learn that a torpedo had destroyed it. He then reported “available for duty” on the main deck, and due to his impressive size and strength (Miller stood over size feet tall and weighed over 200 lbs.), was assigned to help carry the wounded ship’s captain to safety.
His next orders were to the anti-aircraft machine guns, where he manned a 50 caliber Browning with absolutely zero prior training. Miller continued firing until he ran out of ammunition. When the attack lessened to an extent, Miller helped move injured sailors to a relatively undamaged part of the ship, unquestionably saving the lives of numerous people.
Miller stated "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."
Throughout the attack, Japanese aircraft released two armored piercing bombs throughout the deck of the battleship and launched five 18-inch aircraft torpedoes into her port side. Because of the major damage, all crew were ordered to abandon ship—as it gradually made its way to the bottom of the harbor. Of the 1,541 men on West Virginia through the attack, 130 were killed and 52 wounded.
Miller was commended by the Secretary of the Navy, and on May 27, 1942 he was awarded the Navy Cross, the third-highest award in the Navy, for “ distinguished devotion to duty, extraordinary courage and disregard for his own personal safety during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor. Miller was the first African-American sailor to ever be awarded the Navy Cross. Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, the Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet personally presented the award to Miller. He 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.”
On December 13, 1941, Miller reported to USS Indianapolis (CA-35), and subsequently returned to the west coast of the United States in November 1942. Appointed to the freshly constructed USS Liscome Bay (CVE-56) in the spring of 1943, Miller was on board that escort carrier during Operation Galvanic, the appropriation of Makin and Tarawa Atolls in the Gilbert Islands. Liscome Bay's aircraft supported operations ashore between 20-23 November 1943.
At 5:10 AM 24 November, while exploring near Butaritari Island, a single torpedo from Japanese submarine I-175 struck the escort carrier near the stern. The ship sank within minutes of the attack. Listed as one of the missing soldiers after the loss of the escort carrier was Miller. He was declared dead on November 25, 1944, a year and a day after the loss of Liscome Bay. Of the almost nine hundred sailors onboard the Liscome Bay, only 272 survived.
In addition to the Navy Cross, Miller was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart Medal; the American Defense Service Medal, Fleet Clasp; the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal; and the World War II Victory Medal. Authorized on June 30, 1973, the USS Miller (FF-1091), a Knox-class frigate, was named in honor of Doris Miller. On 11 October 1991, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority dedicated a bronze commemorative plaque of Miller at the Miller Family Park located on the U.S. Naval Base, Pearl Harbor.
To read about more heroes of Pearl Harbor, take a look at our posts on Lt. Annie Fox, and Lts. George Welch and Kenneth Taylor.
Photo Credit: www.history.navy.mil