A Sailor's Story: Ship's Cook Third Class Doris Miller

Ship's Cook 3rd Class Doris Miller was born in Waco, Texas, on October 12, 1919. He attended A.J. Moore High School and played fullback on the football team until leaving school to help support his family, both by farming and working part-time at a local diner.

Ship's Cook Third Class Doris Millier enlisted in the US Navy on September 16, 1939, prior to the start of World War II, and was transferred to the USS West Virginia on January 2, 1940, serving as Mess Attendant. He was also the heavyweight boxing champion of the ship.

On December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, he manned a Browning 50 caliber anti-aircraft gun in defense of the USS West Virginia and fought off enemy planes, despite having received no weapons training (the US Navy did not allow African Americans in combat roles at that time)

After running out of ammunition and with orders to abandon the ship, Ship's Cook Third Class Doris Miller assisted in moving injured sailors off the boat, including mortally wounded Captain Mervyn Bennion. He received the Navy Cross for his actions, the first African American to earn that award.

Ship's Cook Third Class Doris Miller was later assigned to the carrier Liscome Bay which was torpedoed during the Battle of Makin Island on November 24, 1943. Ship's Cook Doris Miller and two-thirds of the 900-person crew were lost at sea and presumed dead. His memorial service was held on April 30, 1944, in Waco, Texas.

His actions during the attack on Pearl Harbor earned him quite a bit of recognition. Ship's Cook Third Class Doris Miller was featured on the Navy recruitment poster "Above and beyond the call of Duty" and gave talks in Oakland, California, Waco, Texas, Dallas, Texas, and the first graduating class of African American sailors at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station in Chicago Illinois.

His actions were dramatized in "They Live Forever," a CBS radio series, and Gwendolyn Brook's poem Negro Hero.

Actors Elven Havard and Cuba Downing Jr. represented his actions in the film and he was also featured in the "Distinguished Sailors" US Postal Service Commemorative Stamps. IN HIS HONOR, the US Navy has also named a Knox class frigate, USS Miller.


a.d. elliott is a wanderer, writer, and photographer currently living in Salem, Virginia. 

In addition to the travel writings at www.takethebackroads.com, you can also read her book reviews at www.riteoffancy.com and US military biographies at www.everydaypatriot.com

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