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Reply #76: Doris (Dorie) Miller [View All]

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jmm Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Mar-11-07 06:27 PM
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76. Doris (Dorie) Miller


Holder of the Navy Cross for outstanding bravery at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Ship's Cook Third Class Doris (Dorie) Miller was one of the earliest American heroes of World War II. Although at the time the U.S. Navy did not offer African Americans opportunities to rise above the menial labor of the mess hall, Miller took advantage of the chance fate gave him to distinguish himself in battle. But two years after his heroism at Pearl Harbor, he lost his life aboard the USS Liscome Bay in the Gilbert Islands in November of 1943.


Valor at Pearl Harbor

The ship was anchored at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. Miller was on deck collecting laundry at 7:55 a.m. Many of the ship's crew were either sleeping in or spending the weekend ashore. On this quiet Sunday morning no one expected the first-wave attack force of some 200 Japanese bombers, torpedo planes, and fighters that struck the U.S. fleet without warning. Miller did not know it at the time, but the United States had just entered World War II.

When the alarm for general quarters sounded, Miller ran amidship to his battle station, an anti-aircraft battery. But torpedo damage had already put the battery out of commission. Miller was knocked down by the explosions but scrambled to his feet and ran on deck. In the smoke, flames, and chaos that engulfed the harbor as the enemy planes continued their relentless and deadly assault, Miller worked to carry wounded sailors to safer sections of the ship. An officer enlisted Miller's help carrying the ship's wounded captain, Mervyn Bennion, off the bridge.

The officer then spotted two unmanned, 50-caliber anti-aircraft machine guns on deck and shouted for two trained seaman to fire them. Miller was to supply the ammunition, but when the officer was needed elsewhere, Miller quickly stepped up to man the gun. Although he had not been trained to fire it, he reasoned it could not be much harder than the squirrel gun he used back home in Texas. Later he said, according to the Naval Historical Center website, "It wasn't hard. I just pulled the trigger and she worked fine." In all, he was credited with downing three planes that morning. Some witnesses, however, claimed his marksmanship was astonishing and that he had shot down as many as six planes.

Perhaps he would have shot down more enemy planes, but Miller was ordered to abandon ship. Five 18-inch torpedoes had hit the West Virginia's port side and two armor-piercing bombs had exploded on deck. With severe flooding below decks, the battleship slowly sank in shallow water. Of the 1,541 men on board, 130 died that day and 52 were wounded. In total, five battleships went down at Pearl Harbor, most within 30 minutes of the start of battle. Three others were damaged, as well as three cruisers, three destroyers, and other vessels; 180 U.S. aircraft were destroyed. More than 2,300 people died in the surprise attack, and more than 3,400 were wounded. As for the West Virginia, it lived to fight another day. It was refloated and repaired and operated in the Pacific until the end of the war in August of 1945.

Honoring a Hero

Miller transferred to the USS Indianapolis a week after Pearl Harbor and spent the next 17 months on the cruiser. In April of 1942, he was commended by Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox for his bravery at Pearl Harbor. Shortly after, aboard the USS Enterprise, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet, pinned the Navy's highest award for valor, the Navy Cross, on the chest of the 22-year-old ship's cook. According to the Naval Historical Center website, the citation read: "For distinguished devotion to duty, extraordinary courage and disregard for his own personal 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..until ordered to leave the bridge." Nimitz said of Miller, according to the Naval Historical Center website: "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."

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