ABOVE AND BEYOND THE CALL OF DUTY
Miller was born on October 12, 1919 to Connery and Henrietta Miller. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy on September 16, 1939, where he became a Mess Attendant, Third Class, one of the few ratings then open to African Americans. After his training at the Naval Training Station in Norfolk, Virginia, he was assigned to the ammunition ship Pyro, but on January 2, 1940, he was transferred to the battleship West Virginia, where he became the main cook.
On December 7, 1941, Miller awoke at 0600. After serving breakfast in the mess hall, he proceeded to start his daily duties of collecting laundry. At 0757, the first of nine torpedoes was launched and hit the West Virginia. Miller ran immediately to his battle station, an antiaircraft battery magazine amidship, and discovered the blast from the torpedo had destroyed it.
Miller was ordered by a commanding officer to assist him in loading the unmanned #1 and #2, Browning .50 caliber anti-aircraft machine guns. Although, Miller was unfamiliar with the weapons, he learned quickly, and began firing the starboard gun until it ran out of ammunition.
He was noted for his bravery, and one of the first heroes of World War II, during the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. He was the first African American honored with the third highest award, the Navy Cross.
On May 15, 1943, Miller was appointed as a Petty Officer, Ship’s Cook, Third Class, at Puget Sound Navy Yard, and on June 1st, he reported for duty on the escort carrier Liscome Bay. After training in Hawaii, the Liscome Bay took part in the Battle of Makin Island, beginning November 20th. On November 24th, the ship was struck in the stern by a torpedo from a Japanese submarine 1-175.
The ship sank within minutes after the aircraft bomb magazine detonated. Only 272 crew members survived, out of over 900, but Miller was not among them. He was presumed dead, and two years after his heroic actions at Pearl Harbor, on December 7, 1943, Miller’s parents were informed that their son was Missing in Action.