Pearl Harbor
Dorie Miller (Wikimedia Commons)

An African American cook who served in the Navy on Dec. 7, 1941 is being remembered not for his kitchen skills, but for his heroism in helping to fight off Japanese planes during the Pearl Harbor attack, the Newark Post reports.

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Friday marks the 77th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack that brought the United States into World War II, killing more than 2,300 stationed at the Hawaiian naval base and nearly crippling the Navy’s Pacific Fleet.

One sailor, 22-year-old Dorie Miller, was on duty on the the USS West Virginia “date that would live in infamy.” In the segregated military, Blacks were not allowed to serve in high-post positions and were relegated to lower level jobs. In Miller’s case, he served as Third Class Messman. When bombs hit his ship, Miller grabbed an anti-aircraft gun and began firing on the invading aircraft. The West Virginia was sank, but was later salvaged during the war.

Miller’s story is one that extends beyond just his heroism and is being told by Dante Brizill, a Newark-area resident, who wrote a book, “Dorie Miller: Greatness Under Fire,” about the Miller’s bravery and contribution during the Pearl Harbor attack.

“It was a commonly held belief by a lot of senior people in the military at the time that African-Americans were not capable of being in skilled positions that required intensive training and combat,” Brizill said.

The book pays homage to Miller’s actions which he performed despite being unable to serve as others did in the military because of the color of his skin. He continued in the Navy, having been awarded the Navy Cross in 1942 for his bravery and his ranks was raised to Mess Attendant First Class. He toured the states helping to raise money for ward bonds and later was called to serve on the USS Liscome Bay in 1943. That ship was operating in the Gilbert Islands in the Pacific when it was hit by a Japanese torpedo, sinking it. Miller was listed as missing and eventually presumed dead as a result. Generations later, Brazill says Miller’s story is still an important one to tell.

“I feel as though it’s inspirational because it shows a guy who rose above what he was trained to do and rose above the purpose the Navy had for black men at the time,” Brizill said. “He basically stepped in when his ship was under attack and basically just rose above and beyond what he was assigned to do.”

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The book was released on Nov. 26 and now serves as a loud and proud account of Miller’s contribution to history, something Brizill said the Navy tried to keep under wraps for a long time.

“At first, the Navy kind of kept his story quiet, but enough people had witnessed his courage to talk about it,” he said. “It spread by word of mouth that this black cook on the ship did some heroic deeds.”

“When you see African Americans in the military today that are in senior positions, that are in highly skilled positions, Dorie Miller’s legacy I think has a lot to do with that,” he said. “He opened doors with his actions on Dec. 7, 1941,” Brizill said.