Dorie Miller, an African American Cook, Earns the Navy Cross for His Heroic Deeds at Pearl Harbor
Born on October 12, 1919 in Waco, Texas, Doris “Dorie” Miller was the first black person to receive the Navy Cross, the second highest honor awarded to a sailor. Only the Medal of Honor comes before it in prestige.
His parents were sharecroppers Connery and Henrietta Miller. Farming was the life he and his family knew. He attended Waco’s A.J. Moore High School and was a noted fullback on the school’s football team. The third of four sons, he got his name because his mother wanted a daughter. As a teenager, he went to work as a cook at a local restaurant in order to earn extra money for his family.
In 1939, just shy of his 20th birthday, Miller enlisted in the Navy. He wanted to earn more money and see more than the state of Texas. He entered the Navy as a mess attendant (cook). Even though President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had opened up the armed services to African-Americans, the only positions they could hold were the so-called menial posts. They could not be sailors who actively participated in fighting.
Miller got his training in Norfolk, Virginia and served on the USS Pyro, an ammunition ship, before serving on the USS West Virginia, a battleship, in 1940. On December 7, 1941, Miller was at Pearl Harbor aboard his ship collecting soiled laundry when the infamous attack occurred.
The 6’3″, 200-pound Miller took command of an unmanned .50-caliber Browning antiaircraft gun. He shot at the Japanese planes above until he ran out of ammunition. Even though some people on the West Virginia knew of his courageous actions, it was only when articles about him began appearing in newspapers that he got wide acclaim.
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On May 27, 1942, Miller received the Navy Cross when Admiral Chester Nimitz, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, pinned it on him. After receiving that high honor, he stumped the country to raise money for war bonds in the black community.
Then, returning to duty on a ship, he was assigned to the U.S.S. Indianapolis. And in 1943 he was assigned to the USS Liscome Bay, an escort carrier. Sadly, this hero did not live long after that. On November 24, 1943, a torpedo from a Japanese submarine hit the ship, an action that led to the deaths of 646 of the 916 sailors onboard. Miller was one of them. His body was never recovered.
Since 1944 there have been campaigns aimed at getting the Medal of Honor bestowed on him. But so far that honor has eluded him. However, his memory has been honored many times. Here is a limited list. In 1944, the Doris Miller Auditorium in Austin’s Rosewood Park was named for him. The Miller Family Park is located at the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor. In 1973 the frigate USS Miller was named for him. It was decommissioned in October, 1991. In February, 2010, the United States Postal Service issued a stamp to commemorate him.
“Doris’ Story.” Doris Miller Memorial. Online. May 10, 2016.