On the morning of December 7th, 1941, Doris Miller was working as a mess attendant on the battleship West Virginia in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. He was a Navy veteran of two years, joining at twenty years old after years working on his father’s farm in Texas. But that morning would look unlike any he had experienced.
Shortly before eight am, the ships in Pearl Harbor came under attack. The West Virginia was hit. Doris, uninjured, helped move wounded soldiers to safety. After which, he took command of an anti-aircraft machine gun. Without prior training, he began firing, shooting down a couple of enemy planes. Then came the call to evacuate.
He survived that day and continued serving in the Navy. But two years later, in November 1943, Doris was aboard the aircraft carrier Liscome Bay when a torpedo sank the ship while cruising near Butaritari after the Battle of Makin. After being listed as missing for two years, the Navy declared him as having passed away.
Doris received the Navy Cross, becoming the first Black American to receive that award, and the Purple Heart for his service, amongst other decorations and awards.
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“A snapshot biography of Doris Miller” sources: Naval History and Heritage Command / Portrait of Doris Miller taken on May 27th, 1942, after he was presented with the Navy Cross – Wikimedia Commons.