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
11, 2005 column
A syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers
Published with permission
A public service of the East Texas Historical Association. Archie
McDonald, of Nacogdoches, is the Association¹s executive director
and the author of more than twenty books.