Today’s blog was written by Dr. Tina L. Ligon, Supervisory Archivist at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland
At 7:48 am on December 7, 1941, Japanese fighter planes and bombers began their surprise attack on the US Naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. In two waves of attack, the Japanese sunk 4 battleships, as well as damaged 4 more battleships, 3 cruisers, 3 destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship, and 1 minelayer, along with destroying 188 aircraft. The early morning attack also killed 2,403 Americans and injured another 1,178. The attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, caused the United States to enter World War II.
African Americans supported the war effort. Although there were limited opportunities for them in the Armed Forces, 2.5 million black men registered for the draft and thousands of black women joined auxiliary units. African Americans generally served in segregated combat support groups with limited military engagement. On the homefront, African Americans supported the “Double-V” campaign, which meant victory against fascism abroad and victory against racism at home, in addition to supporting the March on Washington campaign in 1941, in an effort to demand equal employment in the defense industries.
As we remember the 75th Anniversary of the Attack on Pearl Harbor, let’s not forget the heroic actions of Navy Messman Third Class Dorie Miller, who was born on October 12, 1919 in Waco, Texas. Miller joined the US Navy in 1939, and was made a mess attendant, then cook aboard the USS West Virginia. During the Pearl Harbor attack, Miller first ensured the safety of several crewmates, before he began firing at Japanese warplanes with a 50 caliber anti-aircraft gun. Miller shot down two Japanese aircraft (possibly downed two more) during the raid.
In RG 80 Correspondence Relating to Discrimination, 1941-1944 (National Archives Identifier 120920855) series, the file unit Dorie Miller (NAID 26416709) contains memorandums, letters, and newspaper coupons from the black community to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, encouraging him to admit Miller to the Naval Academy. As a messman, Miller was ineligible for military training, even though he was a hero in the Pearl Harbor attack. The letters and coupons from black newspapers to FDR received attention from the president and were forwarded to the Navy Department. However, Miller was too old to attend the Navy Academy. Only candidates for midshipmen between the ages of 17 and 21 were considered. Miller was 23-years-old.
Following Pearl Harbor, Miller received a Navy Cross from Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. He would later receive the Purple Heart, the American Defense Service Medal – Fleet Clasp, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal. In the spring of 1943, he was assigned to the USS Liscome Bay (still at the rank of messman), when he was killed during a Japanese submarine attack on November 24, 1943 near the Gilbert Islands in the Pacific.