Military Wiki
Doris Miller
Miller with his Navy Cross
Nickname "Dorie"
Born (1919-10-12)October 12, 1919
Died November 24, 1943(1943-11-24) (aged 24)
Place of birth Waco, Texas, U.S.
Place of death Gilbert Islands, Gilbert and Ellice Islands
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch United States Navy
Years of service 1939-1943
Rank PO3 collar.png Cook Third Class

World War II

Awards Navy Cross ribbon.svg Navy Cross
Purple Heart BAR.svg Purple Heart[1]
Combat Action Ribbon.svg Combat Action Ribbon

Doris "Dorie" Miller (October 12, 1919 – November 24, 1943) was a cook in the United States Navy noted for his bravery during the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. He was the first African American to be awarded the Navy Cross, the third highest honor awarded by the U.S. Navy at the time, after the Medal of Honor and the Navy Distinguished Service Medal. The Navy Cross now precedes the Navy Distinguished Service Medal.[2] Miller's acts were heavily publicized in the black press, making him the iconic emblem of the war for blacks—their "Number One Hero"—thereby energizing black support for the war effort against a colored Japanese enemy.[3]

Early life and education

Miller was born in Waco, Texas, on October 12, 1919, to Connery and Henrietta Miller. He was the third of four sons and helped around the house, cooking meals and doing laundry, as well as working on the family farm. Miller was a good student and was a fullback on the football team at Waco′s A.J. Moore Academy. He was called the "Raging Bull" because of his emotions. Large for his age, he was expelled from school before graduating for fighting with students who insulted him because of his race. On January 25, 1937, at age 17, he began attending the eighth grade again. Forced to repeat the grade the following year, Miller decided to drop out of school.[4] He filled his time squirrel hunting with a .22 rifle and completed a correspondence course in taxidermy. Miller applied to join the Civilian Conservation Corps, but was not accepted. By now he was 6 feet 3 inches (1.91 m) tall and weighed more than 200 pounds (91 kg).[4]

Miller worked on his father′s farm until shortly before his 20th birthday. On September 16, 1939, he enlisted in the United States Navy, where he became a Mess Attendant, Third Class, one of the few ratings then open to African Americans.[5] Following training at the Naval Training Station, Norfolk, Virginia, he was assigned to the ammunition ship Pyro, but on January 2, 1940 was transferred to the battleship West Virginia, where he became the main cook. In July, he was on temporary duty on the Nevada at the Secondary Battery Gunnery School. He returned to his ship in August [2][5] and was promoted to Ship's Cook, Third Class.[6]

Miller's nickname "Dorie" apparently originated in a typographical error. After he was nominated for recognition for his actions on December 7, 1941, the Pittsburgh Courier released a story on March 14, 1942, that gave his name as "Dorie Miller". Since then some writers have suggested it was a "nickname to shipmates and friends."[4]


Attack on Pearl Harbor

Cartoon showing Miller defending the fleet at Pearl Harbor, used for recruitment purposes.

On December 7, 1941, Miller awoke at 0600. After serving breakfast mess, he was collecting laundry when the first of nine torpedoes to hit the West Virginia was launched at 0757 by Lt. Commander Shigeharu Murata of the Japanese carrier Akagi.[4] Miller headed for his battle station, an antiaircraft battery magazine amidship, only to discover that torpedo damage had destroyed it. He went instead to "Times Square", a central spot where the fore to aft and port to starboard passageways crossed, and reported himself available for other duty.[4] Miller was spotted by Lieutenant Commander Doir C. Johnson, the ship's communications officer, who ordered the powerfully built sailor to accompany him to the bridge to assist with moving the ship's Captain Mervyn Bennion, who had a gaping wound in his abdomen where he had apparently been hit by shrapnel. Miller and another sailor lifted the skipper and, unable to remove him from the bridge, carried him from an exposed position on the damaged bridge to a sheltered spot behind the conning tower.[7] The Captain refused to leave his post and questioned his officers about the condition of the ship, giving various orders. The Captain remained on the bridge until his death.

Lieutenant Frederic H. White ordered Miller to help him and Ensign Victor Delano load the unmanned #1 and #2 Browning .50 caliber anti-aircraft machine guns aft of the conning tower.[8] Miller wasn't familiar with the machine gun, but White and Delano told him what to do. Miller had served both men as a room steward and knew them well. Delano expected Miller to feed ammunition to one gun, but his attention was diverted, and when he looked again Miller was firing one of the guns. White had loaded ammo into both guns and assigned Miller the starboard gun.[4] Miller fired the gun until he ran out of ammo, when he was ordered by Lieutenant Claude V. Ricketts along with Lt. White and Chief Signalman A.A. Siewart to help carry the Captain up to the navigation bridge out of the thick oily smoke generated by the many fires on and around the ship. Bennion was only partially conscious at this point and died soon after. Japanese aircraft eventually dropped two armor-piercing bombs through the deck of the battleship and launched five 18 in (460 mm) aircraft torpedoes into her port side. When the attack finally lessened, Lt. White ordered Miller to help move injured sailors through oil and water to the quarterdeck, thereby "unquestionably saving the lives of a number of people who might otherwise have been lost."[9] With the ship heavily damaged by the bombs, torpedoes and following explosions, the crew prevented her from capsizing by counter-flooding a number of compartments, and the West Virginia sank to the harbor bottom as her crew—including Miller—abandoned ship.[2]


Chester W. Nimitz pins the Navy Cross on Dorie, at ceremony on board warship in Maui, May 27, 1942.

On December 15, Miller was transferred to the Indianapolis. On January 1, 1942, the Navy released a list of commendations for actions on December 7. Among them was a single commendation for an unnamed Negro. The NAACP asked President Franklin D. Roosevelt to award the Distinguished Service Cross to the unknown Negro sailor. The Navy Board of Awards in Washington D. C. received a recommendation that the sailor be considered for recognition. On March 12, 1942, Dr. Lawrence D. Reddick announced, after corresponding with the Navy, that the name of the unknown Negro sailor was "Doris Miller." The next day, Senator James N. Mead (D-NY) introduced a Senate Bill [Senate Reso S.2392] to award Miller the Medal of Honor, although he did not yet know the basis for Miller's deeds. Four days later, Representative John D. Dingell, Sr. (D-MI) introduced a matching bill [H.R.6800]. On March 21, The Pittsburgh Courier initiated a write-in campaign to send Miller to the Naval Academy.

Miller was recognized as one of the "first heroes of World War II". He was commended in a letter signed by Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox on April 1, 1942, and the next day CBS radio broadcast an episode of the series, "They Live Forever", which dramatized Miller's actions.[4] On May 27, 1942 Miller was personally recognized by Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet, aboard the aircraft carrier Enterprise.[2] Nimitz presented Miller with the Navy Cross, the third-highest award for gallantry during combat that the Navy awarded at the time. Miller was cited for:

“...distinguished devotion to duty, extraordinary courage and disregard of his personal safety during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. While at the side of his Captain on the bridge, Miller despite enemy strafing and bombing, and in the face of serious fire, assisted in moving his Captain, who had been mortally wounded, to a place of greater safety and later manned and operated a machine gun until ordered to leave the bridge.”[8]

Nimitz told Miller, "This marks the first time in this conflict that such high tribute has been made in the Pacific Fleet to a member of his race and I'm sure that the future will see others similarly honored for brave acts."[8] Negro organizations began a campaign to give Miller additional recognition. The All-Southern Negro Youth Conference on April 17–19, 1942 launched a signature campaign. On May 10, the National Negro Congress denounced Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox's recommendation against awarding Miller the Medal of Honor. However, on May 11, President Franklin D. Roosevelt approved the Navy Cross for Miller. Miller was presented the Navy Cross on May 27, 1942.

World War II service

Miller speaking with sailors and a civilian at Naval Station Great Lakes, January 7, 1943.

Miller was promoted to Mess Attendant First Class on June 1, 1942. On June, 27, The Pittsburgh Courier [8] called for Miller to be allowed to return home for a war bond tour like white heroes. On November 23, Miller returned to Pearl Harbor and was ordered on a war bond tour while still attached to the heavy cruiser Indianapolis. In December 1942 and January 1943, he gave talks in Oakland, California, in his hometown of Waco, Texas, in Dallas, and to the first graduating class of African-American sailors from Great Lakes Naval Training Station, Chicago.[8] In its February 6, 1943 issue, the Pittsburgh Courier continued to hammer to return Miller for a war bond tour. The caption to Miller′s photo in the article read, "He fought...Keeps Mop", while another hero of the Pearl Harbor attack received an officer's commission. It said that Miller was "too important waiting tables in the Pacific to return him", even though in fact he was already on tour.[4] Miller reported for duty at Puget Sound Navy Yard on May 15, 1943. His was made a Petty Officer, Ship′s Cook Third Class, on June 1 [2][5] when he reported to the escort carrier Liscome Bay.


After training in Hawaii, the Liscome Bay took part in the Battle of Makin Island beginning on November 20. On November 24, the ship was struck in the stern by a torpedo from the Japanese submarine I-175. The aircraft bomb magazine detonated a few moments later, causing the ship to sink within minutes. There were 272 survivors from the crew of over 900, but Miller was not among them. Along with two-thirds of the crew, he was listed as "presumed dead". Two years after his heroic actions at Pearl Harbor, on December 7, 1943, Miller′s parents were informed that their son was "Missing in action".[4]

A memorial service was held on April 30, 1944, at the Waco, Texas, Second Baptist Church, sponsored by the Victory Club.[4] On 28 May, a granite marker was dedicated at Moore High School to honor Doris Miller. On 25 November 1944, Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal announced to the public that Miller was "presumed dead".[2]

In popular culture

U.S. Navy recruiting poster featuring Dorie Miller

  • Miller′s face adorned the U.S. Navy recruiting poster "above and beyond the call of duty".
  • In 1942, Miller′s actions were dramatized on the CBS radio series They Live Forever.[10] The Gwendolyn Brooks poem Negro Hero (1945) is narrated from Miller′s point of view. Although he was not identified by name, he was portrayed by Elven Havard in the 1970 film Tora! Tora! Tora!.
  • In Michael Bay′s 2001 film Pearl Harbor, Miller was portrayed by Academy Award-winning actor Cuba Gooding Jr.
  • In 2007, historian Bill O'Neal published Doris Miller: Hero of Pearl Harbor.
  • In February 2010 the United States Postal Service issued a set of four commemorative first class stamps honoring “Distinguished Sailors” from the nation’s history, including Miller.

Awards and decorations

Medals and ribbons

1st Row Navy Cross Purple Heart
2nd Row Combat Action Ribbon Good Conduct Medal American Defense Service Medal
3rd Row American Campaign Medal Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal World War II Victory Medal


  • The USS Miller (FF-1091), a Knox-class frigate was commissioned on June 30, 1973 in honor of Miller.
  • The Doris Miller Foundation was founded in 1947, to give an annual award to the individual or group considered outstanding in the field of race relations.
  • The Bachelor Enlisted Quarters at Great Lakes Naval Base was dedicated to Miller’s memory on December 7, 1971.
  • A monument dedicated to Miller is at the Waco Veterans Medical Center, Waco, Texas
  • Doris Miller Drive at the Waco Veterans Medical Center
  • Dorie Miller Center, former shopping center in San Antonio, Texas
  • Dorie Miller Houses housing co-operative complex in Corona, New York.
  • Dorie Miller Housing Project housing community in Gary, Indiana
  • Doris Miller Elementary School, San Antonio, Texas
  • Doris Miller Elementary School, San Diego, California
  • Doris Miller Elementary School, Waco, Texas
  • Doris Miller YMCA, Waco, Texas
  • Doris Miller Junior High School, San Marcos, Texas
  • Doris Miller Auditorium, Austin, Texas
  • Doris Miller Community Center, recreation facility in Newport News, Virginia.
  • Doris Miller Park, a housing community for junior officers at Maui
  • Dorie Miller Galley, the main galley for Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti
  • Doris Miller Post 915, an American Legion post in Chicago[11]
  • Dorie E Miller Post 817, Beaumont, Texas
  • Dorie Miller American Legion Chapter 14 - a Disabled American Veterans Chapter located in Washington, D.C.
  • On October 11, 1991, Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority dedicated a bronze commemorative plaque of Miller at the Miller Family Park located on the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor.
  • Dorie Miller Park, Lewisburg, West Virginia.
  • Dorie Miller Drive, Champaign, Illinois.
  • Doris Miller Loop, Honolulu, Hawaii, monument located at north end of street
  • Doris Miller Dining Hall, USN Great Lakes Recruit Training Center, Great Lakes, Illinois.
  • Distinguished Sailor - Honored by the U.S. Postal Service as one of four Distinguished Sailors, with a 44 cent commemorative stamp issued on February 4, 2010.[12]
  • In 2002, Molefi Kete Asante listed Doris Miller on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.[13]


  1. SECNAVINST 1650.1-H, P. 1--22, Purple Heart Medal
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 "Ship's Cook Third Class Doris Miller, USN". United States Naval Historical Center. U.S. Navy. 
  3. Robert K. Chester, “‘Negroes’ Number One Hero’: Doris Miller, Pearl Harbor, and Retroactive Multiculturalism in World War II,” American Quarterly, 65 (March 2013), 31–61.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 4.8 4.9 David Aiken. "Doris Miller and his Navy Cross: a brief biography".;f=20;t=15. Retrieved June 20, 2012. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 "Ship's Cook Third Class Doris "Dorie" Miller". National Geographic. Retrieved 10/7/2010. 
  6. "Doris "Dorie" Miller". Retrieved June 20, 2012. 
  7. Bennie J. McRae, Jr. "Dorie Miller". Retrieved June 20, 2012. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 "Doris Miller". January 25, 2012. Retrieved June 20, 2012. 
  9. "USS West Virginia's Action Report, 11 December 1941; with 3 enclosures mentioning the actions of Dorie Miller". Retrieved June 20, 2012. 
  12. Linn's Stamp News, November 9, 2009
  13. Asante, Molefi Kete (2002). 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Amherst, New York. Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-57392-963-8.

Further reading

  • Miller, Richard E. (2004). The Messman Chronicles: African Americans in the U.S. Navy, 1932-1943. Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-55750-539-X. 

External links

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