Welcome to the “Black History Month” edition of the Evolving Man Project’s ‘Evolved Man of the Week’ profile. Each week in February, we will highlight a historical black male figure who embodied what it meant to be an evolved man, famous and non-famous alike. The world needs to know their stories and deeds. This week’s honor goes to the war hero, champion boxer, and first black man awarded the U.S. Navy Cross, Doris Miller.
Born in Waco, Texas in 1919, Mr. Miller played football in high school and spent his formative years working on his father’s farm in the Jim Crow South. After high school, Doris joined the United States Navy as a Mess Attendant. Doris Miller was a large man for his time and become the ship’s champion boxer aboard the USS West Virginia and achieved the rank of Mess Attendant Second Class. At this time, due to racism and bigotry, black sailors weren’t allowed to be in many naval rates outside of service jobs. His ship was one of the multiple vessels attacked at Pearl Harbor by the Japanese on December 7th, 1941. Doris Miller daringly shot down multiple Japanese warplanes and saved numerous shipmates. Mr. Miller had no prior weapons training aboard his ship at the time of the attack. Here is Doris Miller in his own words, commenting on his heroism during Pearl Harbor:
“It wasn’t hard. I just pulled the trigger and she worked fine. I had watched the others with these guns. I guess I fired her for about fifteen minutes. I think I got one of those Japanese planes. They were diving pretty close to us.”
Miller was commended by the Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox on 1 April 1942, and on 27 May 1942 he received the Navy Cross, which Fleet Admiral (then Admiral) Chester W. Nimitz, the Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet personally presented to Miller on board aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6) for his extraordinary courage in battle. Nearly two years after Pearl Harbor, he was killed in action when Liscome Bay was sunk by a Japanese submarine during the Battle of Makin.
“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.” –Chester W. Nimitz
Doris Miller has received many awards and accolades for his heroism and bravery during his time as a U.S. Navy sailor. These include posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, Defense Service Medal, World War II Victory Medal. The naval ship USS Miller (FF-1091) which was commissioned in 1973 was named in his honor. Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority dedicated a bronze commemorative plaque of Miller at the Miller Family Park located on the U.S. Naval Base, Pearl Harbor. Today we honor Doris Miller as our Evolved Man of the Week.