Ship’s Cook Turned Hero – Cook Third Class Doris Miller, U.S. Navy (1919-1943)

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BY DUANE A. VACHON, PH.D. – Doris Miller, was born at Waco Texas on the 12th of October 1919.  He was one of three sons born to Henrietta and Conery Miller.  One of his brothers served in the U.S. Army during the Second World War.

Known as ‘Dorie’ by his shipmates and friends, Miller attended Moore High school in Waco where he was a fullback on the football team. Miller also helped his parents out on their farm.


Miller wanted to travel and to earn some money to help out his family.  In September of 1939, he enlisted in the U.S Navy as Mess Attendant, Third Class, at Dallas.  Later, Miller was commended by the Secretary of the Navy, and advanced to Mess Attendant, Second Class and First Class, and subsequently promoted to Ship’s Cook, Third Class.

When Miller completed his training at the Naval Training Station, Norfolk, Virginia, he was assigned to the ammunition ship USS Pyro (AE-1) where he served as a Mess Attendant until early January 1940 when he was transferred to the  USS West Virginia (BB-48), where he became the ship’s heavyweight boxing champion.

From July 1940 until August, Miller was temporarily assigned to the USS Nevada (BB-36) at Secondary Battery Gunnery School.

On August 3, 1940, he returned to West Virginia and was serving on that battleship when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

Miller was up and collecting laundry on December 7, 1941,  when the alarm for general quarters sounded. He made his way to his assigned battle station, the antiaircraft battery magazine amidships, only to discover that torpedo damage had wrecked it.  He then went on deck. Because of his physical strength, he was assigned to carry wounded fellow sailors to places of greater safety.  One of those that Miller carried was Captain Marvyn Sharp Bennion who was to be awarded the Medal of Honor.

After moving his wounded shipmates, he manned a 50 caliber Browning anti-aircraft machine gun until he ran out of ammunition.  The crew was ordered to abandon ship since the West Virginia was heavily damaged and suffering from severe flooding below decks.

The West Virginia slowly settled to the harbor bottom. Of the 1,541 men on West Virginia during the attack, 130 were killed and 52 wounded. Subsequently the West Virginia was to be refloated, repaired, and modernized. The battleship served in the Pacific theater through to the end of the war in August 1945.

Miller, one of the survivors, was assigned to the USS Indianapolis and later to the escort carrier Liscome Bay.

When Miller was asked about manning the machine gun during the battle, a weapon which he had not been trained to operate, he replied “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 15 minutes. I think I got one of those Jap planes. They were diving pretty close to us.”

Miller was commended by the Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox on April 1, 1942, and on May 27, 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).

Nimitz remarked when awarding the medal to 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.”

At 5:10 a.m. on November 24, while cruising near Butaritari Island, a single torpedo from Japanese submarine I-175 struck the escort carrier Liscome Bay near the stern. The aircraft bomb magazine detonated a few moments later, sinking the warship within minutes. Listed as missing following the loss of that escort carrier, Miller was officially presumed dead November 25, 1944, a year and a day after the loss of Liscome Bay. Only 272 sailors survived the sinking of Liscome Bay, while 646 died.

In addition to the Navy Cross, Doris Miller was entitled to the Purple Heart Medal; the American Defense Service Medal;  Fleet Clasp; the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal; and the World War II Victory Medal.

Doris Miller is listed in the Courts of the Missing, National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Honolulu Hawaii.