A snapshot biography of Doris Miller

Black-and-white historical photograph of Doris Miller, an black American Navy sailor. He is wearing a standard naval uniform with a white sailor hat and a dark neckerchief tied in a square knot. His attire includes a white jumper with a visible medal on his left chest. He has a serious expression on his face, looking straight ahead.
Doris Miller

On the morning of December 7th, 1941, Doris Miller, or Dorie as his friends called him, was working as a mess attendant, serving breakfast and collecting laundry, on the battleship West Virginia in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. He had been a U.S. Navy veteran for two years, joining at the age of twenty after years working on his father’s farm in Texas. But that morning would be unlike any he had ever experienced.

Shortly before eight am, the tranquility of the harbor was shattered as the Japanese Air Force launched a surprise attack on the U.S. ships stationed in Pearl Harbor. The West Virginia was one of the ships hit.

Amidst the chaos, Doris, who wasn’t injured, sprang into action, helping move wounded soldiers to safety, including the ship’s captain. Then, despite being untrained in combat, he took command of an anti-aircraft machine gun and began firing, officially shooting down one plane, though he and others believe it was more. Then came the call to evacuate.

Following the attack, Doris continued to serve in the Navy with distinction as the U.S. entered World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Tragically, his life was cut short two years later when the aircraft carrier Liscome Bay, on which he was serving, was torpedoed and sunk near Butaritari during the Battle of Makin. Initially listed as missing, he was later declared deceased by the Navy.

In recognition of his valor, Doris was awarded the Navy Cross, becoming the first black American to receive this honor. He also received the Purple Heart and other decorations for serving his country with remarkable courage and dedication.


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