Doris “Dorie” Miller was an American hero whose story has been told countless times over the years, but it’s a story worth retelling. Miller, an African-American sailor, was just 19 years old when he left Waco, Texas to provide for his family and serve his country, a country that didn’t always see him as an equal.

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During World War II, blacks were not allowed to fire weapons. In fact, they were not even given weapons training to defend themselves if need be. They were enlisted to work as cooks, stewards, cabin boys, and mess attendants.

But that didn’t stop Miller on Dec. 7, 1941 when the Japanese orchestrated a surprise attack at Pearl Harbor that left thousands dead. As chaos, panic and death surrounded him, Miller became a hero wove began dragging men from his burning ship to safety.

On the way back from taking a fellow shipmate to safety, Miller noticed an abandoned Browning .50 caliber anti-aircraft machine gun on deck and without hesitation began  firing the weapon to protect the ship – even though it violated the rule of African-Americans using weapons.

With no training under his belt, Miller wasn’t deterred from fighting for his country. “It wasn’t hard,” he said after the battle. “I just pulled the trigger and she worked fine. I had watched the others with these guns. I guess I fired her for about 15 minutes. I think I got one of those [Japanese] planes. They were diving pretty close to us.”

 

It was soon reported that Miller took down six Japanese planes and probably could have taken out more if the mounted gun hadn’t run out of ammo. The word of Miller’s heroics that day spread throughout the military, but nobody knew who Miller was.

That is until The Pittsburgh Courier, an African-American paper, tracked Miller down and unveiled his identity.

Miller instantly became an American hero to all races. For his valiant efforts he was awarded the Navy Cross. Miller was the first African-American to receive the prestigious award.

“This marks the first time in this conflict that such high tribute has been made in the Pacific Fleet to a member of his race, and I’m sure that the future will see others similarly honored for brave acts,” said Pacific Fleet Admiral during Miller’s pinning ceremony.

Even after becoming a larger than life hero to the American public, Miller continued to serve and protect his country from the Japanese. His tour of combat came to an abrupt end when a Japanese torpedo struck the ship he was on Nov. 24 killing him and 644 men.

Miller posthumously received a Purple Heart and his legacy lives on to this day. Countless books released following his death portrayed him as a man who fought for his country and loved his country even when his country didn’t seem to love him.

Even today, in a neighborhood on the U.S. base in Pearl Harbor, a street is named in his honor. Miller was awarded countless medals and statues celebrating his life, but all he ever wanted was to protect his country. And protect it he did, until his last breath.