Cuba Gooding Jr. portrays Doris Miller in the upcoming
block-buster movie "Pearl Harbor". He was a legend
to my father who was his shipmate on the battleship West
Virginia,Dec.7,1941. Growing up, I heard first-hand accounts
of his heroism. If you've never heard his story allow me to be
the first to tell it.
Old Johnny Cash songs aside, it was hard for a farm boy
named Doris in Waco, Texas. One of three brothers,everyone
knew him as the star of Moore high schools football team.
Miller as did my father, joined the navy to see the world and
escape the depresion. Both wound up on the same ship serving
as targets for the emperor.
On that fateful day, Miller, the fleet heavyweight champ,
ran to his battle station, only to find it destroyed. A quick
sprint topside found him outside the "bridge" where
he saw the disemboweled captain lying on the cat-walk. The
ship was turning over, its port side blasted off by 8
torpedoes. The dead were everywhere.
While my father sat trapped in a void three decks down,
Doris helped the captain to shelter amid heavy dive-bombing.
Suddenly the harbor went silent and was enveloped in a
blinding flash. An eternal second later a violent shock-wave
flattened him to the deck. Fifty yards aft, the U.S.S.
Arizonas powder magazine erupted, raining "Dante's
Inferno" over the West Virginia. Moving to a nearby
machine-gun, he kept enemy planes at bay with protective fire.
Out of ammunition, the captain dead, and the ship in flames,
Miller went to the side, and with his powerful arms, scooped
dazed sailors from the harbor. All while under fire from enemy
aircraft. Many owe their lives to him and others who stayed
behind to save their shipmates. My father was one of those
Typical of this generation, the story doen't end here.
Doris Miller became a symbol of patriotism for all Americans.
He spoke at war-bond rallies, had boys clubs named after him,
and was the subject of a letter writing campaign to FDR asking
for his admission to Annapolis. He desired instead to get back
in the war. His new assignment-the carrier "Liscome
Bay". In 1943 this ship was torpedoed off Tarawa and
exploded, killing 646, including Doris Miller.
Today it's hard to understand why this man, a product of
"Jim Crow" Texas would risk all for a segregated
country. My belief is that patriotism is color-blind. To the
navys credit he was recognized and decorated for fearless
conduct. He will always be respected by my father and a
dwindling number of survivors remaining.
In 1973, the frigate U.S.S. Miller was launched. The navys
top honor to a fallen hero,a ships namesake, was bestowed on
the memory of Doris Miller. This sixtieth year following the
Pearl Harbor attack, remember him and others who comprised
this greatest of all generations.