Doris Miller, also known as “Dorie” by shipmates and friends was born on 12th October 1919 in Waco, Texas. He was the son of Connery and Henrietta Miller who were both subsistent farmers living a poor lifestyle in Texas. Doris was a very strong child weighing 200 pounds and a height of 5’ 9”. Due to his big size, he played as a fullback at his high school football team. Doris was expelled from school following frequent fights which were racial based. He worked on his father’s farm until he was 20 when he applied for a job in the US Navy as a mess attendant.
Doris was later approved by the Secretary of the Navy and was promoted as a mess attendant in the 2nd class and 1st class and later to a Ship’s Cook 3rd Class. During this time, the role of a Mess Attendant was to serve food to the officers, clean the dishes, do the laundry, make beds and wash the bathrooms. After completing his training at the Naval Training Station in Virginia, Doris was assigned the role of a Mess Attendant to ammunition ship USS Pyro (AE-1).
In 2nd January 1940, he was transferred to USS West Virginia (BB-48) where he competed in boxing becoming the overall heavyweight champion.
On the dawn of December 7th, 1941, an alarm for general headquarters sounded when Doris was busy doing the laundry. He immediately reported to his assigned battle station only to find that it had been damaged by a torpedo attack. Due to his physical prowess, Doris volunteered to carry fellow crew members to safer quarters including the ship’s captain Mervyn Bennion.
Doris then returned to the deck and manned a 50-caliber Browning Anti-aircraft machine gun firing Japanese planes for 15 minutes till he ran out of ammo. Fellow crew members, Ensign Victor Delano and Frederic H. White were shocked to see Doris man a gun which he has never been trained to operate. Two 18-inch aircraft torpedoes were later dropped to West Virginia forcing her to sink to the bottom of the harbor following severe damages. Of the 1541 crew members aboard of West Virginia, 130 were killed and 52 were severely injured.
Doris Miller was commended by the Secretary of Navy Frank Knox in April 1st, 1942 and on May 27th the same year; he received a Navy Cross for his bravery and courage during the Pearl Harbor attack.
Just like other African-American war heroes, Doris Miller was assigned mess duties to newly constructed USS Liscome Bay (CVE-56) in 1943 during the Operation Galvanic. This ship supported aircraft operations in the Pacific Ocean near the Gilbert Islands. On 24th November at around 5:10 am near Butaritari Island, a single torpedo launched by a Japanese submarine I-175 struck the ship near the stern detonating moments later forcing USS Liscome Bay (CVE-56) to sink within minutes. Of the 981 crew members on board, only 272 survived. On 25th November 1944, a year after the attack, Doris Miller was officially presumed dead.
In addition to the Navy Cross, Miller was entitled to numerous accolades such as; The Purple Heart Medal, The Fleet Clasp, the World War II Victory Medal and the American Defense Service Medal. Today, several parks and buildings are named in his honor. The Alpha Kapaa Alpha Sorority dedicated a bronze statue which was erected in the US Naval Base in his honor.