Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Veterans Day 2011 and Dorie Miller

In honor of Veterans Day, the Barbara Jordan Archives would like to share a virtual exhibit about Doris "Dorie" Miller, the first African American to receive the Navy Cross.  The archives has a small collection of photographs and memorabilia of the 1973 commission of the destroyer escort ship USS Miller as well as copies of the speech that Jordan gave in Miller's honor at the ceremony.  It seemed fitting that Jordan, a woman of many firsts for African Americans, be the person to speak on behalf of a man who made his own mark in African American history.

Miller, a Waco native, was one of the first American servicemen to respond when the Japanese staged a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.  Miller, stationed on the USS West Virginia, commandeered an anti-aircraft machine gun (which he'd never been trained to use) and shot down several enemy planes before he was forced to abandon the sinking battleship along with his crew mates.  About a year later, for his valiant performance, Miller was awarded the Navy Cross (at the time, the third highest honor bestowed by the Navy) by none other than Admiral Nimitz.  Miller returned to active duty--which meant he returned to his posting as Cook, Third Class.  Ironically, while some of his ship mates received promotions, Miller did not.  

Miller was reassigned to the USS Liscome Bay and shipped back out to the Pacific in 1943.  On November 24 that same year, the Japanese again staged a surprise attack and the ship was sunk off the coast of the Gilbert Islands.  Dorie Miller died along with over 600 other sailors.  Miller was recognized as a hero, though, and was also awarded the Purple Heart Medal, the American Defense Service Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal.  

In 1973, the Navy decided to commission a new destroyer escort in Miller's name.  On June 30, 1973, Navy officials, dignitaries, and Miller's family and friends gathered to witness the commission of the USS Miller in Norfolk, Virginia.  Congresswoman Barbara Jordan gave the keynote speech, in which she honored Miller for giving the ultimate sacrifice "in the defense of freedom."  

The USS Miller stayed in active duty throughout the Atlantic, the Caribbean, the Persian Gulf and the Black Sea regions until it was decommissioned in 1991.  In 1995, the U.S. Navy sold the ship to Turkey, who used it for parts and target practice, finally sinking the ship in 2001.  Even with the USS Miller no longer in existence, Miller's legacy continues.  Dorie Miller's legacy lives on, however--to date, several schools and VFW posts have been named in his honor, and the U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp with Miller as the subject in 2010.  Most famously, Miller was portrayed by Cuba Gooding, Jr. in the 2001 epic Pearl Harbor

If you'd like to learn more about Doris "Dorie" Miller, click here to visit the Dorie Miller Memorial Foundation.   To visit our virtual exhibit about Miller click here.

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