Today, on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the U.S. Navy announced it will be naming an aircraft carrier after Mess Attendant 2nd Class Doris (Dorie) Miller, the first African-American to receive the Navy Cross and a native Texan.
Miller, a Waco-native who grew up working on his father’s farm before enlisting, was serving as a mess attendant on the USS West Virginia when the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred on December 7, 1941.
The 22-year-old was collecting laundry as part of his daily duties in the early morning hours when an alarm announcing enemy fire from Japanese warplanes sounded.
After heading to his battle station, an anti-aircraft battery magazine, and finding it had already been destroyed, the 22-year-old made his way to the deck of the ship where he carried wounded sailors, comrades, and even the ship’s captain to safety.
As the attack continued, despite not having received training, Miller proceeded to fire a .50-caliber anti-aircraft machine gun at Japanese warplanes until his store of ammunition was depleted.
During this time, African American service members were largely assigned to mess duties, like working in the kitchen and swabbing decks, as the Navy did not provide operational gun training to African-American service members.
“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 the Jap planes. They were diving pretty close to us,” Miller said at the time.
He was awarded the Navy Cross, one of the Navy’s highest honors, by Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz in Pearl Harbor on May 27, 1942.
Ultimately, the USS West Virginia sustained serious damage from enemy bombing and torpedo attacks.
Of the 1,541 sailors aboard the vessel, 130 were killed and more than 50 were wounded.
Today, on a day commemorating the life and legacy of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr, the U.S. Navy honors the past by naming an aircraft carrier after an African-American for the first time.
Speaking at Pearl Harbor as the Navy honors the Doris Miller for his heroic actions, Texas Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX-17) described the naming as a “significant recognition” of an “African-American hero.”
“This is a meaningful recognition for a native son of Central Texas as Petty Officer Miller was from Waco, Texas, where he is a hometown hero and an inspiration to our community. It is fitting that we announced this decision at Pearl Harbor on Martin Luther King Day, because Dorie Miller, an African-American, distinguished himself as a hero during the attack that happened right here on December 7, 1941,” Congressman Flores said.
“Today’s significant recognition of this African-American hero serves as an inspiration to all our Nation’s enlisted military men and women, who come from a diversity of backgrounds and origins to serve in our Armed Forces,” Rep. Flores continued.
Miller died in 1943 when the ship on which he was stationed, the USS Liscome Bay, was hit by a torpedo fired from a Japanese submarine.
Approximately 650 were killed that day with only 272 surviving. Miller’s body was never recovered.
The World War II hero was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart in addition to receiving the American Defense Service Medal, Fleet Clasp, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal.
In Texas, a YMCA branch and a cemetery in Waco bear his name, as do an elementary school in Houston, and an auditorium on the campus of Huston-Tillotson University in Austin.
Sarah McConnell is a reporter for The Texan. Previously, she worked as a Cyber Security Consultant after serving as a Pathways Intern at the Department of Homeland Security – Citizenship and Immigration Services. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Texas A&M as well as her Master of Public Service and Administration degree from the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M. In her free time, Sarah is an avid runner, jazz enthusiast, and lover of all things culinary.