Doris "Dorie" Miller Centennial
By Don Neal
Doris “Dorie” Miller (October 12, 1919 –November 24, 1943) was a Mess Attendant Second Class in the United States Navy. During Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Miller manned anti-aircraft guns (despite having no formal training in their use) and attended to the wounded. For his actions, he was awarded the Navy Cross. On May 27, 1942, Miller was personally recognized by Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet, aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6) in Pearl Harbor. Speaking of Miller, Nimitz remarked: “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.” This year marks the centennial of Miller’s birth. He was only 24 when he died.
Miller 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. The Navy Cross now precedes the Navy Distinguished Service Medal. Miller’s acts were heavily publicized in the Black press, making him an iconic emblem of the war for Black Americans. In addition to the Navy Cross, Miller was entitled to the Purple Heart Medal; the American Defense Service Medal, Fleet Clasp; the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal; and the World War II Victory Medal.
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 the baby would be fe- male. He was the third of four sons and helped around the house, cooking meals and doing laundry, as well as working on the fam- ily farm. Miller was a good student and was a fullback on the football team at Waco’s A.J. Moore High School. On January 25, 1937, at age 17, he began attending the eighth grade again. Forced to repeat the grade the following year, Miller decided to drop out of school. He filled his time squirrel hunting with a .22 rifle and completed a correspondence course in taxidermy. Miller 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).
Miller worked on his father’s farm until shortly before his 20th birthday. On September 16, 1939, he enlisted in the United States Navy to travel and earn money for his family. Following training at Naval Training Station, Norfolk, Virginia, he was promoted to Mess Attendant Third Class, one of the few ratings open at the time to African Americans. He later was commended by the Secretary of the Navy, was advanced to Mess Attendant, Second Class and First Class, and subsequently was promoted to Cook, Third Class.
After training school, he was assigned to the ammunition ship USS Pyro (AE-1) and then was transferred on January 2, 1940 to the battleship USS West Virginia (BB-48). It was on the West Virginia where he started competition boxing, becoming the ship’s heavyweight champion. Miller was promoted to Mess Attendant Second Class on February 16, 1941. In July of that year, he was on temporary duty aboard the USS Nevada (BB-36) at Secondary Battery Gunnery School. He returned to the West Virginia on August 3, 1941, and was serving on that battleship when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
On December 13, 1941, Miller reported to USS Indianapolis (CA -35), and subsequently returned to the west coast of the United States in November 1942. Assigned to the newly constructed USS Liscome Bay (CVE-56) in the spring of 1943, Miller was on board that escort carrier during Operation Galvanic, the seizure of Makin and Tarawa Atolls in the Gilbert Islands. Nearly two years after Pearl Harbor, Miller was killed in action when the ship was sunk on November 24, 1943, by a Japanese submarine. Of the 916 crewmen aboard Liscome Bay, 644, including Miller, went down with the ship.
It is speculated that Miller’s nickname “Dorie” originated from a typographical error. After he was nominated for recognition for his actions on December 7, 1941, the Pittsburgh Courier released a story on March 14, 1942, that gave his name as “Dorie Miller.” Since then, some writers have suggested it was a “nickname to shipmates and friends.”
The Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem “Negro Hero” (1945) is narrated from Miller’s point of view.
Although he is not identified by name, Miller is portrayed by Elven Havard in the 1970 film Tora! Tora! Tora!
Commissioned on June 30, 1973, the USS Miller (FF-1091), a Knox-class frigate, was named in honor of Doris Miller.
In Michael Bay’s 2001 film, Pearl Harbor, Miller is portrayed by actor Cuba Gooding, Jr.
A mini-sheet to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor was issued by St. Vincent & the Grenadines in 2001. The stamp features Miller receiving his Navy Cross.
Miller was honored by the United States Postal Service as one of four Distinguished Sailors, with a 44-cent commemorative stamp issued on February 4, 2010. Also honored were William Sims, Arleigh Burke, and John McCloy.