May 27, 1942: Dorie Miller received Navy Cross for Pearl Harbor heroism


From the AP’s Today in History article for May 27:

In 1942, Navy Cook 3rd Class Doris “Dorie” Miller became the first African-American to receive the Navy Cross for his “extraordinary courage and disregard for his own personal safety” during Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.

Dorie Miller was born in 1919 in Waco, Texas. Miller dropped out of school and was turned down for the Civilian Conservation Corps. He worked on the family farmer until his enlistment. He enlisted in the Navy in 1939 and became a Mess Attendant, 3rd Class. That was one of the only ratings open to African-Americans at the time.  After his training, he was assigned to the ammunition ship Pyro before being assigned to the USS West Virginia and eventually being promoted to Ship’s Cook, Third Class.

On December 7, 1941, Miller served breakfast and then was collecting laundry when the first Japanese torpedo hit the ship. Miller’s battle station had been destroyed so he aided officers in moving the wounded Captain and then helped man an anti-aircraft machine gun.  He also helped move wounded shipmates to the quarterdeck before eventually abandoning ship as West Virginia sank.

About a week later, he was transferred to the USS Indianapolis. A list of commendations released in January 1942 included “an unnamed Negro” and the NAACP asked President Franklin D. Roosevelt to award that unnamed man a Distinguished Service Cross. When Miller’s identity was discovered, there was legislation suggesting he be given the Medal of Honor and a newspaper pushed for him to be sent to the U.S. Naval Academy. 

On May 27, 1942, aboard the USS Enterprise, Admiral Chester Nimitz awarded the Navy Cross to Dorie Miller.

From the citation:

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.

Miller came back to the U.S. and went on a war bond speaking tour. He was also featured on recruiting posters. On May 15, 1943, he was promoted to Petty Officer and assigned to the USS Liscome Bay. A Japanese submarine sank the ship in November 1943 and Miller was declared missing action. A year later he was officially presumed to be dead.

There have been several pieces of popular culture focused on Miller. In 2010, he was featured on a postage stamp and in 2007 a new biography of Miller was published. In 2001, Cuba Gooding, Jr. portrayed Miller in the movie Pearl Harbor.

Jeff Quinton

Jeff Quinton

Jeff Quinton is an award-winning blogger who has been aggregating and blogging since 1998. He has worked as a reporter, in government, and as a communications professional in Columbia, SC and Washington, DC.

Quinton is a native South Carolinian who has lived in Baltimore since 2006. He is a recent convert to the Catholic Church and is active in the Knights of Columbus. He has been involved in the pro-life movement nationally and locally since 2010.

Quinton is a veteran who served as an intelligence analyst in the Army National Guard. He is also an Eagle Scout.
Jeff Quinton