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Nearly 80 years later, Miller's family pushes once more for Medal of Honor

Posted at 11:06 AM, May 31, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-31 18:26:55-04

WACO, Texas — It’s hard to imagine Downtown Waco without the Doris Miller Memorial these days.

His nieces remember a time, though, when Miller's heroism didn't get the recognition it so rightfully deserves.

“I’m always in awe, always in awe,” Henrietta Miller-Beldsoe said, referring to her uncle's service and sacrifice.

Flo Miller agrees, saying nowadays people will stop her and simply ask, "'How did he do that? How did he get that machine gun and do what he done?”'

On December 7, 1941, Miller was a mess cook aboard the USS West Virginia anchored in Pearl Harbor.

His nieces say Miller was below deck when Japanese aircraft swept in for a surprise attack. Doris rushed above deck, helping some wounded on the way, before manning an anti-aircraft gun for which he had no official training.

“He chose to fight. He chose to fight,” Henrietta said.

Only when an African American run paper on the East Coast learned of the story and revealed his name, did the word of Miller's bravery begin to spread.

“There were lots of racism. He was only allowed to be a mess person. Of course, when you hear ‘a sailor’ they certainly didn’t think it was him because it wasn’t one of him duties,” Henrietta said.

Soon, the Navy sent him out on tour to sell war bonds, before he was again stationed in the Pacific where he was later killed in action.

“It opened up the doors for others to be able to man guns and train for other positions, other than just being in the mess hall.”

For nearly 80 years, his family has carried his legacy forward. There are now books, schools, the memorial and even an aircraft carrier is under construction that will bear the Waco native’s name.

Still, the family says there's one last honor that Uncle Doris deserves: the Medal of Honor.

“We have made a commitment amongst ourselves to make sure the younger generation is actively involved, so they can pass that on to the next generation,” Henrietta said.

It remains to be seen if that happens in these divided times. Past efforts by members of the Texas Congressional delegation have stalled out and failed.

The family thinks one man’s remarkable courage could serve as a unifying force for the country, as it has for them.

“I go to bed every night and wake up every morning knowing this is a free world and my uncle had something to do with it,” Flo said.