History of African Americans in Hawaii: Doris Miller

For the final installment of our commemoration of Black History Month, we will take a very close look at one of the most well know soldiers and heroes from the tragic attacks on Pearl Harbor. Though the day was filled with devastation, it is due to the great bravery and commitment of heroes and soldiers that we were able to withstand that surprise attacks of the Japanese. At approximately 7:48am, the first wave of Japanese fighter planes approached the island of Oahu and began the attacks that would forever change the island. During those early morning hours, many soldiers, civilians, and visitors to Oahu were still asleep. Doris Miller, however, was already awake, collecting laundry as part of his duties aboard the USS West Virginia, when the alarm for general quarters sounded.

Under Attack

Hurriedly, Dorie, as he was known to his close friends and shipmates, headed to his battle station. To his surprise, his station, the antiaircraft battery magazine amid ship, had already been destroyed by an armor piercing torpedo. Because of his great physical prowess, he was assigned to carry wounded sailors from the destruction site to areas of safety. As he was carrying soldiers out of harms way, he was commanded to the bridge to aid the mortally wounded Captain of the ship. While in the bridge, he would man a 50-caliber Browning anti-aircraft machine gun, until the ammunition ran out. The attacks on Pearl Harbor proved too much and two armor piercing bombs and five 18-inch aircraft torpedoes caused great damage to the USS West Virginia, ultimately sinking the ship and forcing Dorie to abandon post. Though the West Virginia would eventually be repaired, refitted, and modernized, on this day, the ship would make it to the bottom of the harbor.

Recognized for bravery

Following the attacks, Miller stated about his experience manning the machine gun:

“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 Jap planes. They were diving pretty close to us.”

Dorie Miller was celebrated by the Secretary of the Navy, Frank Knox and on May 27, 1942 he received the Navy Cross, which was presented personally by Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, the Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet. Regarding Miller, Admiral Nimitz stated:

“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.”

Doris Miller served nearly 2 more years in the United States Navy before he was killed in the line of duty on November 24, 1943 while on board the USS Liscome Bay. Dorie was the heavyweight boxing champion on board the USS West Virginia (BB-48). The greatest honor bestowed upon him was the naming of FF-1091, the USS Miller, named in honor of Doris Miller and his contributions and bravery during his naval career.

Interesting Facts:

  • Along with a number of Elementary Schools, streets, Veteran’s Chapters, and parks, Doris Miller was honored by the United States Postal Service on a 44 cent stamp, as one of four distinguished sailors.
  • Dorie was portrayed in the movie ‘Pearl Harbor’ by acclaimed actor Cuba Gooding Jr.
  • Dorie’s face adorned a United States Navy recruiting poster beneath the banner “Above and Beyond the Call of Duty.”
Learn more about Black History Month in Hawaii.

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