Remembering Pearl Harbor: The Courageous Sacrifice of Doris “Dorie” Miller
by G. Brown
December 7th to some people means only 17 more shopping days until Christmas. To many this is the anniversary of the “day that lives in infamy”. To a few remaining survivors, the horrors of that day aren’t nestled in the forgotten pages of history books. Instead the devastation of the loss of thousands of lives of family,friends, and fellow soldiers are memories that never leave.
Survivors gathered at a special ceremony at the site of the WWII Pearl Harbor attack to remember those who perished over three quarters of a century ago. Many of the individual stories of heroes are disappearing as the remaining number of survivors are now in their 80’s and 90’s. But some stories of valor have been preserved both in history books and by Hollywood. One such story is that of Doris “Dorie”Miller—the first African American to be awarded the Navy Cross.
Miller was a cook on board the West Virginia. He had just finished serving breakfast at 6a.m. and volunteered to make an extra $5 per month also working as a steward doing laundry, making beds ad shining shoes. Enroute to his battle station, the morning routine was interrupted by blaring alarms–their ship was under attack. Japanese fighter planes and bombers rained destruction. Miller was ordered to run across the deck and ferry back as many of his injured shipmates as he could. Miller then manned machine guns to fire at approaching enemy planes–a job he had never been trained to do. Miller said, “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 Japanese planes. They were diving pretty close to us.” As the warfare wore on, Miller’s ship sustained such heavy bombing that it eventually capsized and sank. Numerous stories of heroic acts of bravery by sailors that day emerged including those about an unnamed Black sailor later identified as Miller. He was the sole Black soldier commended for bravery during Pearl Harbor with the Navy Cross, but his bravery would be a shining example beyond the military. A newspaper started a campaign to send Miller to the Naval Academy…CBS Radio immortalized Miller’s heroism in a series detailing his action called “They Live Forever”. Miller was soon the image adorning recruitment posters with the words “above and beyond the call of duty” captioned above his stoic and proud pose.
The man who WWII had made a hero would two years later become it another of its fallen. Miller was assigned to the escort carrier Liscome Bay. While training in Hawaii in November of 1943, the ship was hit by a torpedo from a Japanese submarine. When the bomb detonated, it killed 628 of the 900 crew onboard. Miller was among those killed.
In 1945 the U.S. Naval Training Center in California dedicated three of its theater complexes to honor WWII heroes who died while fighting for America…Theater One was named for Doris Miller.