Sometimes the war hero is a cook, third class – like Doris “Dorie” Miller, his ship’s heavyweight boxing champ and Navy Cross recipient, who dashed to the bridge to save the life of his mortally wounded skipper, Capt. Mervyn S. Bennion, during the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor.
With no training for the task, Miller also manned a .50-caliber Browning anti-aircraft machine gun until it ran out of ammunition, perhaps even downing one of the attacking Japanese aircraft. “I think I got one of those Jap planes,” he later said. “They were diving pretty close to us.”
Close is right. All told, USS West Virginia was hit by five aircraft torpedoes and two armor-piercing bombs. More than 100 officers and men were killed in the attack.
Interrupted from his laundry rounds that fateful morning, the 22-year-old farmer’s son from Waco, Texas, found his assigned battle station wrecked, went to the bridge and carried the badly wounded Bennion to a first aid station, then manned the machine gun, all the while under fire.
Often considered the first African-American hero of World War II, Doris Miller was one of the 646 Americans lost when a single torpedo from a Japanese submarine sank the U.S. escort carrier Liscome Bay near the Gilbert Islands in the Pacific on Nov. 24, 1943.
In 2010, Miller was the only enlisted man among four distinguished sailors from the 20th century honored by a panel of U.S. postage stamps.