I’m a little late honoring the birthday of one of my favorite Texas heroes, Doris Miller, but I’ve just got to tell his story again because the example he set is so important…
Doris Miller was born October 12, 1919 in Waco, Texas. The third of Connery and Henrietta Miller’s four sons, Doris was helpful–a hard worker, but school presented struggles. At 17, faced with repeating the eighth grade, he decided to drop out instead. He applied to the Civilian Conservation Corps, but was turned down, so he continued to work for a while on his father’s farm. Then, in September 1939, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy.
The Navy assigned him to work as a Mess Attendant–a cook. Two years later, he had been promoted to Ship’s Cook, Third Class, on the battleship West Virginia at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
On December 7, 1941, Miller served breakfast and was collecting laundry when the first of nine Japanese torpedoes struck the West Virginia. Klaxons shrilled the alarm, and Miller headed for his battle station…only to realize that his anti-aircraft battery magazine had already been destroyed. He quickly looked for other ways to help.
The ship’s captain had been hit. Another commanding officer grabbed Miller and asked him to help carry the captain to a safety. When that was done, Miller took up a position firing one of the ship’s anti-aircraft machine guns, and he kept firing at the Japanese kamikazes until he ran out of ammunition. The bombs rained down, crippling the West Virginia, and Doris Miller kept firing. When the order came to abandon ship, Miller didn’t hurry to save himself. Instead, he helped move injured sailors to safety, undoubtedly saving many lives.
For his heroism he was awarded the Navy Cross.
I love this story. I makes me think about what makes someone a hero. It obviously doesn’t matter where you come from, how rich your parents were, or how well you did in school. Power and privilege don’t matter, either, because Doris Miller didn’t have any of those things. Instead he had heroic character traits like integrity, conviction, devotion to duty, and a determination to serve others in spite of danger to himself.
Doris Miller was a hero.