Dorie Miller’s Legacy: Inspiration for all U.S. Navy Sailors and all Americans

By Rear Adm. John Fuller
Commander, Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific

The story of Dorie Miller is inspiring for all Sailors and all Americans.

In honor of African American History Month, let’s consider what his legacy means for all of us.

Mess Attendant Third Class Doris “Dorie” Miller
Mess Attendant Third Class Doris “Dorie” Miller

Mess Attendant Third Class Doris “Dorie” Miller was ready, willing and able Dec. 7, 1941. He literally took matters into his own hands to protect his ship and his shipmates when he – on his own volition – took control of a machine gun aboard USS West Virginia (BB 48) and returned fire during the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Prior to and even during World War II, mess attendants were relegated to laundry detail, cooking meals, swabbing the deck and shining officers’ shoes.

And, while the support functions the mess attendants provided then – and by extension the things our culinary specialists do today – have mission impacts, “messmen” were not allowed to be direct warfighters. In a fight, they carried ammunition and they carried the wounded to medical care.

They also carried the weight of discrimination and segregation – separate and unequal.

Adm. Chester Nimitz presents Dorie Miller with the Navy Cross on May 27, 1942, aboard USS Enterprise (CV 6) for Miller’s valor on Dec. 7, 1941. (Photo courtesy of the National Archives)
Adm. Chester Nimitz presents Dorie Miller with the Navy Cross on May 27, 1942, aboard USS Enterprise (CV 6) for Miller’s valor on Dec. 7, 1941. (Photo courtesy of the National Archives)

Adm. Chester Nimitz personally presented Miller with the Navy Cross May 27, 1942 aboard USS Enterprise (CV 6) for his valor Dec. 7, 1941.

Then, like most Pearl Harbor survivors, Miller took the fight from Hawaii and across the Pacific.

Miller was aboard USS Liscome Bay (CVE 56) in November 1943 during the Battle of Makin Island when an Imperial Japanese Navy submarine sank his ship. Miller was among the 646 Sailors killed when Liscome Bay went down.

In addition to the Navy Cross and other medals and awards, the Navy honored Doris “Dorie” Miller in 1973 by commissioning a Knox-class frigate, named USS Miller (FF 1091) after him.

On Oct. 11, 1991, the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority dedicated a bronze commemoration plaque in a military housing community near Pearl Harbor that is also his namesake – Doris Miller Housing.

Miller became a poster-hero in the earliest days of the civil rights movement.

He became a symbol of the notion that we should expect the exceptional if talented individuals have an equal opportunity or level playing field.

Miller fought for the ideals that our founders so eloquently described in the Declaration of Independence and in our Constitution, ideals that are meant for every American.

The United States military – and our society – have made great strides since President Truman desegregated the military; since Brown v. Board of Education; and since Presidents Kennedy and Johnson (both former U.S. Navy officers and World War II veterans) fought for and achieved the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

Today, as we contemplate Miller’s bravery over 75 years ago and his sacrifice for our freedom, let’s consider the gift he and other World War II Sailors, Soldiers, Airmen and Marines gave us.

We have peace and freedom for ourselves, and our families because of their sacrifice and we must protect that gift.

Think about it: Dorie Miller and other young service members killed in World War II never had a chance to have their own family. We, however, have the privilege to honor their memory.

Since 1945 millions of American families have lived, loved and thrived thanks to the sacrifices warfighters like Miller made during World War II. Here in Hawaii, hundreds of families since 1991 have called the Doris Miller Housing community “home.”

Like Miller and his shipmates, we who wear the cloth of our nation are ready, willing and able to run toward danger to defend our homeland and our values.

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