Miller Doris “Dorie”.

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Miller Doris “Dorie”, born 12-10-1919 in Waco, Texas to Conery Miller ( 1894-1949) and Henrietta, born Murill, Miller (1895-1952) who were farmers just outside the city. Doris grew to 6 feet 3 inches, weighed over 200 pounds, and played football at Waco’s A.J. Moore Academy. Doris dropped out of school at the age of 17 and enlisted in the US Navy in 1939 at the age of 20. He was made a mess attendant, one the few positions available to African Americans at the time. Miller was eventually elevated to Cook, Third Class and assigned to the USS West Virginia stationed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

At the time, society was segregated in America. Schools were separate for white and African American students; this separation was also implemented in the armed forces, where special units were based on skin colour. Notwithstanding this situation, Miller volunteered for the Navy on 19-09-1939. However, not all positions were open to him, because African Americans could only be appointed as Stewards since 1922. As was the case for Miller who eventually became Mess Attendant Third Class. This included preparing and serving food, doing laundry and performing other simple tasks. He was one of 4,007 African Americans who served in the 139,554-strong navy. Combat positions were not allowed for African Americans, because “letting men of the coloured race” only into the kitchen was “in the best interests of general naval efficiency.”

On 07-12-1941, the world was shocked when Japan launched an attack on America. Unseen, the Japanese fleet had managed to approach the island of Hawaii and unleash swarms of planes on the American base. Miller was doing laundry aboard the USS West Virginia  that morning when Japanese forces caught the Americans by surprise. As soon as the attack started, Miller went to an anti-aircraft gun, but it had already been destroyed. He proceeded to the central meeting place, known as “Times Square,” where he was ordered by Officer Doir Johnson to move the mortally wounded Captain Mervyn Sharp Bennion

to a safe location using an improvised stretcher. Bennion was mortally wounded by a shrapnel shard from the nearby USS Tennessee  after she was hit by a bomb. Mess Attendant Second Class Doris Miller and several other sailors attempted to move Captain Bennion to a first aid station, but he refused to leave his post, eventually ordering his men to leave him and save themselves. Using one arm to hold his wounds closed, he died from loss of blood while still commanding his crew

After relocating the officer, Miller was assigned to assist with a .50 machine gun on board the ship. Rather than just supplying ammunition, Ensign Victor Sharp Delano

, while checking the anti-aircraft guns, saw that Miller fired back at the Japanese planes. Victor Delano later Captain survived the war and died 25-08-2014, age 94. Although Doris was not trained, Miller described his actions as follows: “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… They were diving pretty close to us.” Miller himself thought he had hit at least one plane, but in the chaos of those days, some witnesses and later historians attributed four or even six planes to him. Although he worked in the kitchen, he was not afraid to risk his life and fight back. Ultimately, a fire forced Miller to abandon ship.

Throughout the entire action, and through all the arduous labours which followed, there was never the slightest sign of faltering or of cowardice. The actions of the officers and men were all wholly commendable; their spirit was marvellous; there was no panic, no shirking nor flinching, and words fail in attempting to describe the truly magnificent display of courage, discipline, and devotion to duty of all officers and men. Some examples of outstanding performance of duty are: […].., D-V (G), U.S.N.R., aided by MILLER, Doris, Mess Attendant Second Class, U.S. Navy, was helpful in dragging people through oil and water to the quarterdeck, no doubt saving the lives of a number of individuals who would otherwise have been lost.

Admiral Chester William Nimitz presents the Navy Cross to Miller during a ceremony aboard the USS Enterprise (CV-6) in Pearl Harbor, 27-05- 1942.

Death and burial ground of Miller Doris “Dorie”.

Monument to Dorie Miller in his hometown of Waco, Texas, 2019.

In December 1942 and January 1943, Miller toured the United States and gave several speeches, including in his hometown of Waco. He was even featured on a recruiting poster. Miller was eventually transferred to the USS Liscome Bay in May 1943 and a promotion to third class cook followed. This ship took part in the Battle of the Makin Islands in the Pacific. On 24-11-1943, Liscome Bay was hit by the Japanese submarine I-175 with a torpedo, which detonated the bomb bay. 646 men on board went down with the ship. 272 were saved. Doris Miller was not among the rescued men..Dorie’s name is inscribed on the Punchbowl Memorial in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Monument to Miller in New York City during Memorial Day 2015.

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