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 Texas : Features : Columns : All Things Historical :

DORIS MILLER: HERO

by Archie P. McDonald
Archie McDonald Ph.D.
The East Texas Historical Journal contains an excellent article by Neil Sapper titled “Aboard The Wrong Ship In The Right Books: Doris Miller And Historical Accuracy.”

The article celebrated the actual experiences of Doris Miller, the first African American hero of WWII, who was born in Willow Grove, near Waco. Miller, the fourth son of Connery and Henrietta Miller, was named by the midwife who assisted his mother shortly before his birth because she was convinced the baby would be female.

Miller attended local segregated schools, including W.L. Moore High School in Waco, and worked at various jobs before enlisting in the Navy in Dallas in 1939. Following training in Norfolk, Virginia, he was assigned to duty as a mess man aboard the USS West Virginia.

Miller’s ship was among those berthed on “Battleship Row,” or Ford Island, in Pearl Harbor, on December 7, 1941, when naval air forces of the Empire of Japan struck air, land, and sea forces of the United States at 7:55 a.m. on what had begun as a lazy Sunday morning in Hawaii. He was gathering soiled laundry when the attack began, and rushed to the deck to learn what was happening.

After helping to assist the ship’s wounded captain, Miller took over a deck gun, though he had never been trained in its use, and commenced firing at the Japanese fighter planes at dive-bombers that continued to strafe and launch explosives toward the anchored American ships.

The story of his brave action became exaggerated after the action ceased, and soon claims that Miller had shot down several Japanese aircraft began to circulate. Miller himself told officials that he thought he had hit at least one of the enemy planes.

The service awarded Miller its Navy Cross for valor beyond his training and assignment in May 1942, and following a Christmas leave in December of that year, he was assigned to the aircraft carrier Liscome Bay as a cook, third class.

Miller’s ship was torpedoed and lost while engaged in action in the Gilbert Islands on November 24, 1943, and he was lost at sea. Miller has been honored by associating his name with various schools, veteran’s groups, and the destroyer escort USS Miller. And he is featured prominently in the historical display provided for visitors who await launches to visit the memorial above the USS Arizona to all who served at Pearl Harbor.


© Archie P. McDonald
All Things Historical >
April 11, 2005 column
A syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers
This column is provided as a public service by the East Texas Historical Association. Archie P. McDonald is director of the Association and author of more than 20 books on Texas.

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