African Americans in World War II
Courtesy of the Library of Congress
This poster shows Dorie Miller, hero of Pearl Harbor. Born Doris Miller to sharecroppers in Waco, Texas, he joined the Navy in September 1939 and was assigned to the steward's branch, where he worked as a mess attendant. On the morning of 7 December 1941 Miller was collecting the officers' laundry on the battleship West Virginia when Japanese torpedoes struck the ship. In the ensuing chaos, Miller carried the mortally wounded Captain Mervyn S. Bennion to a safer place and, despite having no combat training, turned one of the ship's 50mm guns against the attacking Japanese planes. He shot down two enemy aircraft, firing until he ran out of ammunition. Despite this selfless act of courage and heroism, Miller was largely ignored for months after the attack, until protests in the black press led President Roosevelt to nominate him for the Navy Cross. Miller became the first African American to receive the Cross, the Navy's second highest honor, from Admiral Chester W. Nimitz on 27 May 1942. The story of his heroism fueled the aspirations of other black sailors and the African American community at large, and he spoke before large audiences throughout the United States. Miller ultimately returned to active duty as a petty officer and participated in the battle of Tarawa. Tragically, he was among 644 men killed on 24 November 1943, when the escort carrier Liscome sank during the battle for Makin.