Mess Attendant First Class Doris “Dorie” Miller was born in Waco in 1919, the son of a couple of parents that spent their lives as sharecroppers traveling the land working cotton fields. Forever in poverty, Dorie grew to be one of the most unlikely heroes on one of America’s darkest days, and inspired countless people from his actions of bravery and general badass-ery.
Dorie attended high school and was the star running back for the local high school, kicking ass every Friday night under the lights. Then he worked two jobs during the Great Depression just to help the family and keep food on the table. He was a busy guy and had no problem doing what had to be done.
In 1939, the 19 year old enlisted in the Navy as a way to get out of Waco and have a respite from the poverty he had always known. That, and cooking burgers at the local burger joint was probably getting old, as was stiff-arming his way to stardom on Fridays. Upon his completion of Basic Training, he was assigned as Mess Attendant Third Class on the USS Pyro (which is a kick-ass name for a ship) where he pretty much did whatever had to be done in the kitchen, which was a typical assignment in those days for blacks. It certainly wasn’t the sexiest job in the Navy, but it was one of the few that was assigned to blacks in those days, and he made a solid wage, and was able to send much of it home to his family.
From there, Dorie was transferred to the USS West Virginia and he was sent out to enjoy some of the sunny beaches of Hawaii. Namely, Pearl Harbor. Pretty girls, perfect water, and amazing shorelines was a heckuva lot better than most assignments. When Dorie wasn’t hanging on the beach or keeping the West Virginia in line, he then became the heavyweight boxing champion for the ship, kicking many an ass on his way to his title, with a ship of over 2000 men. Basically, Dorie was the baddest badass on the ship, and everyone knew it.
On the morning of December 7, 1941, Dorie was collecting laundry from the bunks when he heard the entire world come apart above him. Two hundred Japanese plans, fighters, and bombers of every imagineable variety had descended upon Pearl Harbor to unleash hell, and they did so very well. The majority of American battleship power was knocked out, and Dorie was in the middle of the craziest military madhouse since the Civil War.
Dorie did as he had been instructed, which was to get to his battle station. His typical station was a smaller anti-aircraft gun on one of the middle decks, but when he got there, he saw that a torpedo had already blown it to hell. This pissed Dorie off, so in true Badass form, he shrugged his shoulders and headed for the top deck to see what he could do to help.
At this point, the situation on the West Virginia was as bad as it gets. Bullets, bombs, and torpedoes were flying everywhere, the whole damn ship was on fire, and men were dead and dying everywhere. Dorie just started picking guys up and throwing them over his shoulders as he took them to areas of the ship where they were protected from the aircraft gun spray. He saw that his ship’s Commander, Captain Bennion, had been hit and was lying out in the open. This further pissed off Dorie, who rushed to him, threw him over his shoulder while dodging gunfire and shrapnel and got him a safe spot.
If this were the end of the story, we would agree that Dorie was a badass. But no, we are not done. After saving countless lives, Dorie saw that the ship’s deck guns were mostly unmanned, so he shrugged, ran over to one of them, strapped himself in, and begin laying down a curtain of firepower against the Japanese and his ship. This is a gun he had never shot nor been trained to shoot.
At this point, our hero Dorie, the ship’s cook basically, has strapped himself into a .50 cal gun and is laying waste to countless Japanese fighters. His confirmed kill count varies from “a few” to “a dozen” depending on who you ask, but who cares. He unleashed hell on the bad guys and the only thing that stopped him was that he ran out of bullets and his ship’s dying Captain ordered him to abandon ship.
Dorie survived the attack on Pearl Harbor, as did 1500 of his fellow crewmen from the USS West Virginia. He was awarded the Navy Cross from Admiral Nimitz himself, and was one of the first black men to ever receive one of the Navy’s highest awards. He didn’t retire, though. He continued working in the Mess hall, and served on the USS Indianapolis and the USS LIscome Bay, and kicked many Japanese asses all over the Pacific. He died on November 24, 1943 when his ship was hit by a torpedo.
Since then, there are countless Boys & Girls Clubs named after him, he had a parade in his honor in Waco, he spoke at multiple graduation ceremonies, and even was put on a postage stamp.
Oh, and did we mention that he was SUCH a badass that the Navy named a freaking destroyer in his honor and named it the USS Doris Miller?
Here’s to you, Dorie. Bravery. Dedication. Humility. And one serious, serious badass guy.