When Pearl Harbor Was Attacked, This Black Messman Broke The Rules To Save Lives

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Doris “Dorie” Miller enlisted in the U.S. Navy back in 1939 when he was 19 years old. The young man from Texas wanted to see the world, as well as to make some money for his family. However, the Navy was segregated back in those days, so Miller, an African-American, could only join it as a mess attendant, meaning he had to cook and do laundry.

Miller received no gunnery training, but it didn’t stop him from saving the lives of many during the attack on Pearl Harbor


U.S. National Archive and Records Administration

On the fatal morning of December 7, 1941, Miller was doing laundry at USS West Virginia, the battleship that was in port at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, when the Japanese launched their aerial attack

Miller rushed to his battle station, an anti-aircraft battery, only to find it destroyed. Without a second thought, Miller went straight to the deck and carried the wounded, including his own captain, to safety. But Miller didn’t feel like it was enough.


U.S. National Archive and Records Administration

Putting himself in great danger, he manned an anti-aircraft machine gun and started shooting at the Japanese planes

It was against the law for black servicemen to fire weapons, but Miller didn’t care. All he wanted was to defend his country and friends, even if it was against the rules


U.S. National Archive and Records Administration

Miller was shooting the enemies until he ran out of bullets and was ordered to abandon the ship

“It wasn’t hard,” said Miller shortly after the battle. “I just pulled the trigger and she worked fine. I had watched the others with these guns. I guess I fired her for about 15 minutes. I think I got one of those Jap planes. They were diving pretty close to us.”


U.S. National Archive and Records Administration

His heroic act was praised by many and, in March 1942, Miller became the first African-American to be awarded the Navy Cross

Miller’s citation for the Navy Cross said “for distinguished devotion to duty, extraordinary courage and disregard for his own personal safety during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, by Japanese forces on December 7, 1941. While at the side of his Captain on the bridge, Miller, despite enemy strafing and bombing and in the face of a 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 directed at enemy Japanese attacking aircraft until ordered to leave the bridge.”


U.S. National Archive and Records Administration

Miller then toured the country for a while, giving speeches until he returned back to Navy


U.S. National Archive and Records Administration

Miller served for another 2 years until his tragic death in 1943

On November 7, 1943, USS Liscome Bay, the vessel where Miller serving, was torpedoed and sunk in the Pacific Ocean by the Japanese.


U.S. National Archive and Records Administration

Even though his own country didn’t always treat him well, this brave young man gave his life for it and his big heart shall never be forgotten


U.S. National Archive and Records Administration

Miller posthumously received a Purple Heart, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, the American Defense Service Medal, Fleet Clasp, and the World War II Victory Medal. Many schools and buildings across the U.S. are named in his honor.