.... one of the first heroes of the war in the Pacific
by Bennie J. McRae, Jr
African-Americans had been an integral part of the U. S. Navy since the days of John Paul Jones, however, they were restricted to the steward’s branch when the United States entered World War II.
Despite the restriction, on December 7, 1941 when the Japanese made their infamous sneak attack at Pearl Harbor, a Black messman, Dorie Miller took over a machine gun aboard the Battleship West Virginia and turned it on the Japanese and became one of the heroes of the day.
Dorie Miller, a native of Waco, Texas, was looking forward to having a quite and peaceful day as a mess attendant due to the fact that most of the officers and crewmen of the West Virginia and the other eight battleship that were moored in the harbor, were spending the weekend ashore or asleep aboard.
At the onset of the attack, Miller and Ensign Edmond Jacoby made their way to the deck, and encountered Lieutenant Commander Doir Johnson who asked Miller to come along and assist in caring for the ship’s skipper, Captain Mervyn Bennion. The skipper had been seriously injured when a splinter from a bomb that hit the Battleship Tennessee raked the bridge of the West Virginia. Johnson and Miller lifted the skipper and carries him from an exposed position to a sheltered spot behind the conning tower.
Ensign Victor Delano spotted two inactive machine guns and recruited another officer and a seaman to activate the guns and attack the invading enemy planes. Mess Attendant Second Class Miller was to supply them with ammunition. As Delano’s attention was attracted elsewhere, Miller began firing a stream of bullets at the Japanese planes that roared over the deck.
Even though he had never been trained in the operation of a machine gun due to a rigid segregated Navy policy, Miller continue to fire away. An accurate assessment of Miller’s astonishing marksmanship was impossible to determine due to the confusion of the battle, however, he was officially credited with downing two Japanese planes. Some witnesses insisted that he had disposed of as many as six.
Miller was honored as one of the first heroes of World War II, and six months later the Navy Cross was pinned his chest by Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, commander in chief of the Pacific Fleet. He was cited for his “distinguished devotion to duty, extreme courage, and disregard for his own personal safety during the attack.”
Almost two years later on Thanksgiving Day of 1943, Miller, one of many Blacks who deserted the galleys and washrooms to engage the enemy, went down with most of the seven-hundred-man crew of the aircraft carrier Liscombe Bay after being hit by a Japanese torpedo.
Appendix to the Congressional Record, Volume 92 - Part 9, January 14, 1946, to March 8, 1946.
Drotning, Phillip T. Black Heroes in Our Nation’s History, New York: Washington Square Press, 1969. all classifications.