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Lest we forget all who fought

Pops was 12 and hunting squirrels in rural Alabama when he heard the news about the bombing of Pearl Harbor that Sunday morning. He waited three years, then lied about his age and joined the Navy.

Today is the 67th anniversary of what Franklin D. Roosevelt called, “A day that will live in infamy.”

My parents’ generation marked their lives by that day. It was a call to duty and honor.

But the story of Doris “Dorie” Miller never came to my attention in all those tales I heard while sitting at the knees of my Pops and friends. Miller came to my attention in mid-life while working on a graduate degree. During that time, I read the Chicago Defender and the New York Amsterdam. These newspapers, including the Atlanta Daily World, would come to black neighborhoods in the Deep South, courtesy of some Pullman porter on a train. In many cases, it was the only war news about black soldiers.

It was in the Chicago Defender that I read about Miller. During WWII, blacks were restricted to the steward’s branch of the Navy. Miller, a native of Waco, Texas, was a black messmate on the battleship West Virginia. During the attack on Pearl Harbor he and Ensign Edmond Jacoby went to the deck. One of the officers asked Miller to help car for the ship’s captain, Mervyn Bennion, who was seriously injured when a splinter from a bomb that hit the Tennessee skidded across the bridge of the West Virginia. Miller and Jacoby moved Bennion to a safer place.

At one point, Miller stepped up to one of the machine guns and began firing at Japanese planes as they flew over the deck. Miller had never trained on a machine gun. The Navy’s policy forbade arming black sailors. The Navy officially credited him with shooting down two Japanese planes, although newspaper reports cited as many as six kills.

Six months later Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, commander of the Pacific Fleet, pinned a Navy Cross on Miller’s chest. Two years later, Thanksgiving Day, Miller died when a Japanese torpedo slammed into the aircraft carrier Liscombe Bay. In 1973, the Navy commissioned a frigate, the USS Miller in his honor. The ship was decommissioned in October 1991.

A lot of brave men and women died that day. We should pause to remember all who served.

Leesha Faulkner is executive editor of the Times-Journal. Call her at 410-1730 or e-mail leesha.faulkner@selmatimesjournal.com.