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Miller, Doris (1919–1943)

Neil Sapper Biography Entry

Doris (Dorie) Miller, first African American hero of World War II, son of Connery and Henrietta Miller, was born in Willow Grove, Texas, on October 12, 1919. The third of four sons, Doris Miller was named by the midwife who assisted with his birth; she was positive before the birth that the baby would be a girl. After attending the Willow Grove school, Miller entered A. J. Moore High School in Waco. In addition to playing football, he supplemented the family income by working as a cook in a small restaurant in Waco during the Great Depression. As his family's fortunes worsened, he considered joining the Civilian Conservation Corps or the army but encountered obstacles to each of these plans.

Less than a month before his twentieth birthday, Miller enlisted in the United States Navy at its Dallas recruiting station. Following bootcamp training in Norfolk, Virginia, he was assigned to the USS West Virginia as a messman. On December 7, 1941, Mess Attendant Second Class Doris Miller was collecting soiled laundry just before 8:00 A.M. When the first bombs blasted his ship at anchor in Pearl Harbor, Miller went to the main deck, where he assisted in moving the mortally wounded captain. He then raced to an unattended deck gun and fired at the attacking planes until forced to abandon ship. It was Miller's first experience firing such a weapon because Black sailors serving in the segregated steward's branch of the navy were not given the gunnery training received by White sailors. Although news stories have credited Miller with downing from two to five airplanes, these accounts have never been verified and are almost certainly apocryphal. Miller himself told Navy officials he thought he hit one of the planes. Navy officials conferred the Navy Cross upon Miller on May 27, 1942, in a ceremony at Pearl Harbor. Following a Christmas leave in 1942, when he saw his home and family in Waco for the last time, Miller reported to duty aboard the aircraft carrier Liscome Bay (or Liscomb Bay) as a mess attendant, first class. During the battle of the Gilbert Islands, on November 24, 1943, his ship was torpedoed and sunk in the Pacific Ocean, and Miller perished. At that time, he had been promoted to cook, third class, and probably worked in the ship's galley. In addition to conferring upon him the Navy Cross, the navy honored Doris Miller by naming a dining hall, a barracks, and a destroyer escort for him. The USS Miller is the third naval ship to be named after a Black navy man. In Waco a YMCA branch, a park, and a cemetery bear his name. In Houston, Texas, and in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, elementary schools have been named for him, as has a Veterans of Foreign Wars chapter in Los Angeles. An auditorium on the campus of Huston-Tillotson College in Austin is dedicated to his memory. In Chicago the Doris Miller Foundation honors persons who make significant contributions to racial understanding. The U.S. Navy named an aircraft carrier, the USS Doris Miller, in his honor on January 20, 2020, during the Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration ceremony.

Dallas Morning News, January 18, 2020. Neil Sapper, "Aboard the Wrong Ship in the Right Books: Doris Miller and Historical Accuracy," East Texas Historical Journal 18 (1980). Texas Star, May 21, 1972.


  • Peoples
  • African Americans
  • Military

Time Periods:

  • World War II

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Neil Sapper, “Miller, Doris,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 08, 2021,

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December 1, 1995
December 2, 2020

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