By EDDIE BERNICE JOHNSON
U.S. House of Representatives
Were he alive on Oct. 12, Dorie Miller, the Waco-born naval hero would have celebrated his one 100th birthday. His selfless heroic deeds for our nation on Dec. 7, 1941, when he was only 23-years-old, will live in history forever!
Miller, who served in the United States Navy as a cook, because non-White sailors were not allowed to participate in combat, risked his life during a Japanese aerial attack to save a number of sailors from dying. He even commanded a machine gun to deter attacking enemy planes.
Miller should have received the Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest military award, for his efforts but racial prejudice prevented him from receiving the honor that witnesses to his heroics, including the senior surviving officer aboard his ship believed that he should have been awarded. The ‘Medal of Honor was stolen from him, many believe.
Miller loved the Navy. He was offered non-combat -duty after Pearl Harbor by the military, but he insisted that he return to sea where unfortunately he was killed during another attack in the Pacific on Dec. 24, 1943. When he died the nation lost one of its greatest heroes.
Congressional efforts to secure the Medal of Honor for Miller began as early as 1944 when former Michigan Representative John Dingell Sr. introduced legislation to right a grievous wrong. Other members of Congress who championed Miller’s cause included Congressman John Dingell Jr. and my former Texas State House colleague Mickey Leland who died in a plane crash in Africa in 1989 while a member of Congress. I have attempted to secure the medal upgrade for Miller since becoming a member of Congress.
He and my late father, who also served in the Navy, were personal friends. As a small girl I joined my father as he called on neighbors and friends in Waco to contribute money to purchase an appropriate gift for our hometown war hero.
In previous cases where military medals have been upgraded advocates for recipients had to show one of two items, new evidence of valor or racial bias. In Miller’s case both can be shown.
In the new evidence standard the After Action Report by the senior surviving officer of the ship that Miller defended details numerous acts by him that were not included in his original medal citation, as is the practice in the military.
The public writings and statements of Frank Knox, the Secretary of the Navy while Miller served indicated that he was opposed to integrating the Navy, and that he did not believe that non-white seamen were capable of functioning as quality sailors.
When he first was alerted about Miller’s heroics, Knox, a civilian appointee, only awarded a letter of accommodation to Miller, even after reading the After Action Report which detailed acts of valor that included Miller risking his life to save the lives of others.
The Navy Cross was awarded after Admiral Chester Nimitz, who had personal knowledge of Miller’s heroics and President Franklin D. Roosevelt intervened. Both of these fair-minded men, no doubt, believed that Miller should have received the Medal of Honor.
But it appears that a compromise was reached to save Secretary Knox from press scrutiny and embarrassment for only giving Miller a letter for all that he had done!
Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson represents the 30th Congressional District of Texas in the United States House of Representatives. She also chairs the House committee on Science, Space and Technology.