Doris Miller

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Doris Miller
Dorie Miller - Restoration, full.jpg
Miller wearing his Navy Cross
Born(1919-10-12)October 12, 1919
Waco, Texas, U.S.
DiedNovember 24, 1943(1943-11-24) (aged 24)
USS Liscome Bay, off Makin Atoll, Gilbert and Ellice Islands
AllegianceFlag of the United States (1912-1959).svg  United States of America
Service/branchFlag of the United States Navy (1864-1959).svg  United States Navy
Years of service1939–1943
RankCook Second Class
Service number 356-12-35
Battles/wars World War II

Doris Miller (October 12, 1919 November 24, 1943) was a United States Navy cook third class who was killed in action during World War II. [1] He was the first Black American to be awarded the Navy Cross, the highest decoration for valor presented by the US Navy, and the second highest in the United States after the Medal of Honor. [2] [3]


Miller served aboard the battleship West Virginia, which was sunk by Japanese torpedo bombers during the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. During the attack, he helped several sailors who were wounded, and while manning an anti-aircraft machine gun for which he had no training, he shot down 4-6 Japanese planes. [3] [4] Miller's actions earned him the medal, and the resulting publicity for Miller in the Black press made him an iconic emblem of the fight for civil rights for Black Americans. [5] In November 1943, Miller was killed while serving aboard the escort carrier Liscome Bay when it was sunk by a Japanese submarine during the Battle of Makin in the Gilbert Islands.

The destroyer escort/Knox-class frigate USS Miller (reclassified as a frigate in June 1975), in service from 1973 to 1991, was named after him. [6] On January 19, 2020, the Navy announced that a Gerald R. Ford-class nuclear powered aircraft carrier, CVN-81, would be named after Miller. [7] The ship is scheduled to be laid down in 2026 and launched in 2029. [8] [9]

Early life and education

Miller was born in Waco, Texas, on October 12, 1919, to Connery and Henrietta Miller. He was named Doris, as the midwife who assisted his mother was convinced before his birth that the baby would be a girl. [10] He was the third of four sons and helped around the house, cooked meals and did laundry, as well as working on the family farm. He was a fullback on the football team at Waco's Alexander James Moore High School. [11] He began attending the eighth grade on January 25, 1937, at the age of 17; he repeated the grade the following year due to poor performance, so he decided to drop out of school. [12] He filled his time squirrel hunting with a .22 rifle and completed a correspondence course in taxidermy. He applied to join the Civilian Conservation Corps, but was not accepted. At that time, he was 6 feet 3 inches (1.91 m) tall and weighed more than 200 pounds (91 kg). [12] Miller worked on his father's farm until shortly before his 20th birthday,

Miller's nickname "Dorie" may have originated from a typographical error. He was nominated for recognition for his actions on December 7, 1941, and the Pittsburgh Courier released a story on March 14, 1942, which gave his name as "Dorie Miller". [13] Since then, some writers have suggested that it was a "nickname to shipmates and friends". [12]

Miller enlisted in the U.S. Navy as a mess attendant third class at the Naval Recruiting Station in Dallas, Texas, for six years on September 16, 1939. [1] Mess attendant was one of the few ratings open at the time to black sailors. [14] He was transferred to the Naval Training Center, Naval Operating Base, Norfolk, Virginia, arriving on September 19. [1] After training school, he was assigned to the ammunition ship Pyro (AE-1) and then transferred on January 2, 1940, to the Colorado-class battleship West Virginia (BB-48). It was on West Virginia where he started competition boxing, becoming the ship's heavyweight champion. In July, he was on temporary duty aboard Nevada (BB-36) at Secondary Battery Gunnery School. He returned to West Virginia on August 3. He advanced in rating to mess attendant second class on February 16, 1941. [3] [14]

Attack on Pearl Harbor

Illustration of Miller defending the fleet at Pearl Harbor (Charles Alston, Office of War Information and Public Relations) "DECEMBER 7th - REMEMBER^" - NARA - 535613.jpg
Illustration of Miller defending the fleet at Pearl Harbor (Charles Alston, Office of War Information and Public Relations)

Miller woke up at 6 a.m. on December 7, 1941, aboard West Virginia. He served breakfast mess and was collecting laundry at 7:57 a.m. when planes from the Japanese aircraft carrier Akagi fired the first of seven torpedoes that hit West Virginia. [12] The "battle stations" alarm went off; Miller headed for his battle station, an anti-aircraft battery magazine amidships, only to discover that a torpedo had destroyed it.

He went then to "Times Square" on deck, a central spot aboard the ship where the fore-to-aft and port-to-starboard passageways crossed, reporting himself available for other duty and was assigned to help carry wounded sailors to places of greater safety. [12] Lieutenant Commander Doir C. Johnson, the ship's communications officer, spotted Miller and saw his physical prowess, so he ordered him to accompany him to the conning tower on the flag bridge to assist in moving the ship's captain, Mervyn Bennion, who had a gaping wound in his abdomen where he had apparently been hit by shrapnel after the first Japanese attack. [15] Miller and another sailor lifted the skipper, but were unable to remove him from the bridge, so they carried him on a cot from his exposed position on the damaged bridge to a sheltered spot on the deck behind the conning tower where he remained during the second Japanese attack. [15] [4] Captain Bennion refused to leave his post, questioned his officers and men about the condition of the ship, and gave orders and instructions to crew members to defend the ship and fight. [15] Unable to go to the deck below because of smoke and flames, he was carried up a ladder to the navigation bridge, where he died from blood loss despite the aid from a pharmacist mate. [15] He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. [16]

Lieutenant Frederic H. White had ordered Miller to help him and Ensign Victor Delano load the unmanned number 1 and number 2 Browning .50 caliber anti-aircraft machine guns aft of the conning tower. [17] Miller was not familiar with the weapon, but White and Delano instructed him on how to operate it. Delano expected Miller to feed ammunition to one gun, but his attention was diverted and, when he looked again, Miller was firing one of the guns. White then loaded ammunition into both guns and assigned Miller the starboard gun. [12]

Miller fired the gun until he ran out of ammunition, whereupon he was ordered by Lieutenant Claude V. Ricketts to help carry the captain up to the navigation bridge out of the thick oily smoke generated by the many fires on and around the ship; Miller was officially credited with downing at least two hostile planes. [4] "I think I got one of those Jap planes. They were diving pretty close to us," he said later. [3] Japanese aircraft eventually dropped two armor-piercing bombs through the deck of the battleship and launched five 18-inch (460 mm) aircraft torpedoes into her port side. When the attack finally lessened, Miller helped move injured sailors through oil and water to the quarterdeck, thereby "unquestionably saving the lives of a number of people who might otherwise have been lost". [18]

The ship was heavily damaged by bombs, torpedoes, and resulting explosions & fires, but the crew prevented her from capsizing by counter-flooding a number of compartments. Instead, West Virginia sank to the harbor bottom in shallow water as her surviving crew abandoned ship, including Miller; [3] the ship was later raised and restored for continued service in the war. On West Virginia, 132 men were killed and 52 were wounded from the Japanese attack. On December 13, Miller reported to the heavy cruiser Indianapolis (CA-35).


Admiral Chester W. Nimitz pins a Navy Cross on Mess Attendant Second Class Miller during a ceremony aboard the USS Enterprise (CV-6) at Pearl Harbor, on May 27, 1942. Nimitz and miller.jpg
Admiral Chester W. Nimitz pins a Navy Cross on Mess Attendant Second Class Miller during a ceremony aboard the USS Enterprise (CV-6) at Pearl Harbor, on May 27, 1942.

On January 1, 1942, the Navy released a list of commendations for actions on December 7. Among them was a single commendation for an unnamed black man. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) had asked President Franklin D. Roosevelt to award the Distinguished Service Cross to the unknown black sailor. The Navy Board of Awards received a recommendation that the sailor be considered for recognition. On March 12, an Associated Press story named Miller as the sailor, citing the African-American newspaper Pittsburgh Courier ; [19] additional news reports credited Lawrence D. Reddick with learning the name through correspondence with the Navy Department. [20] In the following days, Senator James M. Mead (D-NY) introduced a Senate bill [S.Res. 2392] to award Miller the Medal of Honor, [21] and Representative John D. Dingell, Sr. (D-MI) introduced a matching House bill [H.R. 6800]. [22]

Miller was recognized as one of the "first US heroes of World War II". He was commended in a letter signed by Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox on April 1, and the next day, CBS Radio broadcast an episode of the series They Live Forever, which dramatized Miller's actions. [12]

Black organizations began a campaign to honor Miller with additional recognition. On April 4, the Pittsburgh Courier urged readers to write to members of the congressional Naval Affairs Committee in support of awarding the Medal of Honor to Miller. [23] The All-Southern Negro Youth Conference launched a signature campaign on April 17–19. On May 10, the National Negro Congress denounced Knox's recommendation against awarding Miller the Medal of Honor. On May 11, President Roosevelt approved the Navy Cross for Miller. [24]

On May 27, Miller was personally recognized by Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet, aboard the aircraft carrier Enterprise (CV-6) at anchor in Pearl Harbor. [3] [25] Nimitz presented Miller with the Navy Cross, at the time the third-highest Navy award for gallantry during combat, after the Medal of Honor and the Navy Distinguished Service Medal; on August 7, 1942, Congress revised the order of precedence, placing the Navy Cross above the Distinguished Service Medal in precedence.

Nimitz said of Miller's commendation, "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 and I'm sure that the future will see others similarly honored for brave acts." [3] [25]

Return to United States and the war

Miller speaking with sailors and a civilian at Great Lakes Naval Training Station, January 7, 1943 Blackhist2.jpg
Miller speaking with sailors and a civilian at Great Lakes Naval Training Station, January 7, 1943
1943 U.S. Navy recruiting poster featuring Miller and his Navy Cross Above and beyond poster.jpg
1943 U.S. Navy recruiting poster featuring Miller and his Navy Cross

Miller advanced in rating to mess attendant first class on June 1, 1942. [1] [17] On June 27, the Pittsburgh Courier called for him to be allowed to return home for a war bond tour along with white war heroes. [26] On July 25, the Pittsburgh Courier ran a photo of Miller with the caption "He Fought ... Keeps Mop" next to a photo of a white survivor of the Pearl Harbor attack receiving an officer's commission. [27] The photo caption stated that the Navy felt that Miller was "too important waiting tables in the Pacific" for him to return to the United States.

On November 23, Miller returned to Pearl Harbor and was ordered on a war bond tour while still attached to Indianapolis. [12] In December, and January 1943, he gave presentations in Oakland, California, in his hometown of Waco, in Dallas, and to the first graduating class of black sailors from Great Lakes Naval Training Station. [17] He was featured on the 1943 Navy recruiting poster "Above and beyond the call of duty", designed by David Stone Martin. [28]

In February 1943, "mess attendant" was changed to the "steward's mate" rate title by the Navy. [29] On May 15, Miller reported to Puget Sound Navy Yard at Bremerton, Washington, assigned to the newly constructed escort carrier Liscome Bay (CVE-56). [1] [3] He was advanced in rating to cook third class on June 1. [1] The ship had a crew of 960 men, and its primary functions were to serve as a convoy escort, to provide aircraft for close air support during amphibious landing operations, and to ferry aircraft to naval bases and fleet carriers at sea. [30] The Liscome Bay was the flagship for Carrier Division 24 which was under the command of Rear Admiral Henry M. Mullinnix. On October 22, Liscome Bay set sail for Pearl Harbor. [30]


After training in Hawaii waters, Liscome Bay left Pearl Harbor on November 10, 1943, to join the Northern Task Force, Task Group 52. [30] Miller's carrier took part in the Battle of Makin (invasion of Makin by units of the Army's 165th Regimental Combat Team, 27th Infantry Division) which had begun on November 20. [31] On November 24, the day after Makin was captured by American soldiers and the eve of Thanksgiving that year (the cooks had broken out the frozen turkeys from Pearl Harbor), [30] Liscome Bay was cruising near Butaritari (Makin Atoll's main island) when it was struck just before dawn in the stern by a torpedo from the Japanese submarine I-175 (which fired four torpedoes at Task Group 5312). [30] [32] The carrier's own torpedoes and aircraft bombs, including 2,000-pounders, detonated a few moments later, causing the ship to sink in 23 minutes. [30] There were 272 survivors from the crew of over 900, [33] but Miller was among the two-thirds of the crew listed as "presumed dead". [34] His parents were informed that he was missing in action on December 7, 1943. [12] Liscome Bay was the only ship lost in the Gilbert Islands operation. [30]

A memorial service was held for Miller on April 30, 1944, at the Second Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, sponsored by the Victory Club. [12] On May 28, a granite marker was dedicated at Moore High School in Waco to honor him. [12] Miller was officially declared dead by the Navy on November 25, 1944, a year and a day after the loss of Liscome Bay. [3] One of his brothers also served during World War II.

Military awards

Miller's decorations and awards:

Navy Cross ribbon.svg Purple Heart BAR.svg
Combat Action Ribbon.svg United States Navy Good Conduct Medal ribbon.svg
American Defense Service Medal ribbon.svg
American Campaign Medal ribbon.svg
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal ribbon.svg
World War II Victory Medal ribbon.svg
1st Row Navy Cross [3] Purple Heart [3]
2nd Row Combat Action Ribbon
Good Conduct Medal American Defense Service Medal
with "FLEET" clasp (bronze star) [3]
3rd Row American Campaign Medal Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal
with two bronze stars [3]
World War II Victory Medal [3]

For distinguished devotion to duty, extraordinary courage and disregard for his own personal safety during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, by Japanese forces on December 7, 1941. While at the side of his Captain on the bridge, Miller, despite enemy strafing and bombing and in 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 directed at enemy Japanese attacking aircraft until ordered to leave the bridge. [35]


Commemorative plaque for Dorie Miller at the National Museum of the Pacific War Dorie Miller commemorative plaque.jpg
Commemorative plaque for Dorie Miller at the National Museum of the Pacific War
Dorie Miller memorial at the housing cooperative named for him in Corona, Queens Dorie Miller Memorial - Corona NY - Memorial Day 2015.jpg
Dorie Miller memorial at the housing cooperative named for him in Corona, Queens
Doris Miller Auditorium in Austin, Texas Doris Miller Auditorium Austin Texas.jpg
Doris Miller Auditorium in Austin, Texas
USS Miller (FF-1091), a Knox-class frigate commissioned in 1973, in honor of Miller USS Miller (FF-1091).jpg
USS Miller (FF-1091), a Knox-class frigate commissioned in 1973, in honor of Miller
Community-related (e.g. streets & parks)


Film & television
Unveiling the Distinguished Sailors commemorative stamp series during a ceremony at the U.S. Navy Memorial US Navy 100204-N-1281L-048 The Distinguished Sailors commemorative stamps series is unveiled.jpg
Unveiling the Distinguished Sailors commemorative stamp series during a ceremony at the U.S. Navy Memorial

See also

Related Research Articles

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Further reading