By Christopher Moore, Author: Fighting For America: Black Soldiers, The Unsung Heroes of World War II.
Sunday morning, Dec. 7, 1941, at 7:55 a.m., Doris “Dorie” Miller was below deck collecting laundry when his ship, the U.S.S. West Virginia, was struck by the first of five aircraft torpedoes and two 1,000-lb bombs. Miller scrambled on deck—under a hail of machine-gun fire from strafing enemy planes—and carried several wounded soldiers, including his mortally wounded captain, to greater safety.
In the lopsided Japanese victory that stunned America, the government, military and news media searched for heroes to present to the American public. Newspapers carried stories and printed the names and actions of local heroes. Except for one national story about the heroics of an anonymous “negro messboy,” all of the acts of bravery belonged to white Americans.
More than three months passed before Dorie Miller’s name became known and received national attention. His identity was announced by Lawrence Reddick, Director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Suspecting that the Navy might purposefully have withheld the name of a black hero, Reddick wrote an amicable letter requesting that the soldier’s name be released so that he could be acknowledged in an “Honor Roll of Race Relations.” The Navy provided Reddick with Miller’s name, and on March 12, 1942, Reddick’s announcement made public the war’s first African-American hero.