Black History Month: Dorris Miller
February 7, 2012
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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 U.S. 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 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 Pyro where he served as a Mess Attendant, and on January 2, 1940 was transferred to the battleship West Virginia, where he became the ship′s main cook. In July of that year, he had temporary duty aboard Nevada at Secondary Battery Gunnery School. He returned to West Virginia on August 3, 1940.
On December 7, 1941, Miller awoke at 06:00 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. When directed to assist in loading a pair of unattended Browning .50 caliber anti-aircraft machine 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 five 18 in (460 mm) aircraft torpedoes into her port side. Heavily damaged by the ensuing explosions, and suffering from severe flooding below decks, 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 Admiral Chester W. Nimitz—the Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet—presented to Miller on board aircraft carrier Enterprise for his extraordinary courage in battle.
|Doris Miller Auditorium in Austin, TX