Doris “Dorie” Miller.

Doris “Dorie” Miller.

Chances are you know something about Doris “Dorie” Miller, even if you don’t know his name. 

If you’ve seen any of the Pearl Harbor movies — like “Tora! Tora! Tora!”, “Pearl Harbor” or “Midway” — Miller’s the impossible-to-miss African American cook, played by Cuba Gooding, Jr. in “Pearl Harbor,” blasting away at attacking Japanese aircraft on a .50 caliber machine gun. 

Miller’s beleaguered ship, the USS West Virginia, which suffered merciless strafing, eight torpedo strikes, and a destroyed rudder in the attack, slipped reluctantly beneath the shallow waters of Pearl Harbor 81 years ago today (the battleship was later refloated). 

Before she went down, Miller, who had never trained on a machine gun, shot down as many as four Japanese aircraft, tended to the West Virginia's dying captain, and carried as many as a dozen of his wounded shipmates to safety before the West Virginian succumbed. 

He was an instant national hero, America’s first in World War II. 

But Miller was Black, and Navy brass balked at nominating him for the Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest military award. Admiral Chester W. Nimitz instead personally awarded Miller the Navy Cross, the country’s third-highest honor at the time.

The accolades didn’t stop there: The Destroyer escort USS Miller was commissioned in 1973, and the USS Doris Miller, a Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier, will soon be put into service in Miller’s honor. He has received countless additional honors, including a U.S. Postal stamp — but no Medal of Honor. 

That hasn’t sat right with a lot of people in the intervening decades, including late Texas congressman and Congressional Black Caucus chairman Mickey Leland. Before his death in a 1989 plane crash, Leland reached across the aisle to former two-term New York congressman Joe DioGuardi, who already had been advancing the cause of Black servicemen denied the Medal of Honor. DioGuardi has been championing Miller’s case ever since. 

“We wanted to make sure that Black war heroes would get the Medal of Honor as deservedly as the white ones,” DioGuardi, now a private citizen, recently wrote to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. “Dorie Miller is one of these cases that should finally come to closure this year.”

DioGuardi, 82, has lobbied five U.S. presidents about Miller’s case, including Joe Biden. He's assembled a crack research team to provide fresh information on Miller’s heroism to the Defense Department, a requirement for reopening a Medal of Honor case. They submit that Miller entered the fire-and-oil covered waters at Pearl Harbor repeatedly to save shipmates that day, actions exceeding those performed by other deserving awardees from the USS West Virginia.

Other African Americans have received the Medal of Honor. Sgt. William H. Carney of the Massachusetts 54th Regiment was posthumously awarded the prize in 1863 for his bravery in the Union Army attack on Fort Wagner in South Carolina. But, preposterously, not a single African American serviceman from World Wars I or II was given the medal until 1991, when WWI veteran Freddie Stowers of the 371st Infantry Regiment was finally awarded it posthumously, largely due to Leland’s and DioGuardi’s efforts.

Dorie Miller insisted on going back to sea after the Pearl Harbor attack. On Nov. 24, 1943, his new ship, the USS Liscome Bay, was torpedoed and sank near the Gilbert Islands. In a cruel twist of irony, Miller’s mother learned of his death two weeks later — Dec. 7, 1943. 

Her son is a bona fide American hero. Give him his award. 

Opinions expressed by William F. B. O’Reilly, a consultant to Republicans, are his own. 


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