By Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson
Fittingly, the theme of Black History month this year acknowledges the potent historic contributions made by African-Americans in our nation’s military. They have been heroic, and legendary.
Yet, if our nation is serious about honoring role of blacks that have risked their lives to defend liberty, free speech and our way of life, its leaders should begin by finally awarding the Medal of Honor to Seaman Doris Miller, a Texan who, with no thought for his own safety, saved the lives of others during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Robbed of his life at the age of twenty-four while serving on an aircraft carrier, it is unconscionable that Seaman Miller has been denied the medal that his actions demand.
Those that witnessed his actions aboard the USS West Virginia on December 7th, 1941 believed that Miller was deserving of the military’s highest honor.
Yet, it was the secretary of the Navy, a civilian appointee during the Roosevelt administration, whose explicit racial biases resulted in Miller being denied the Medal of Honor.
Earlier in his term, the naval Secretary fervently argued that all Japanese Americans in the western part of the country be placed in internment camps.
In fact, the naval Secretary did not want Miller to receive the Navy Cross. Even after reading the battle report written by those who witnessed Miller’s heroics, he only thought that Miller should receive a Letter of Commendation, the lowest of three awards given by the Navy, with no medal included.
When fair-minded officials in the Navy heard of the naval Secretary’s position they protested directly to President Roosevelt, demanding that Miller receive fair and adequate treatment.
Their case was so compelling that Miller was awarded the Navy Cross, essentially a compromise that did not subject the naval Secretary to scrutiny from the press, demanding to know why he had recommended a letter.
Miller, himself, knew that he should have received the nation’s highest military award, but was precluded from speaking publically about his actions aboard his ship because the battle report was classified, and any mention of it would have resulted in a military hearing and dismissal from the service. Miller was effectively silenced.
A number of naval historians that have studied the awarding of the Medal of Honor to members of the Navy have concluded that Dorie Miller’s name should be among those who have received the honor.
They point out that one of the factors that the Navy, itself, gives as a reason for a medal upgrade is racial bias. They have concluded that the actions of the naval Secretary amounted to racial biases, and are ready to testify before any panel that calls them to appear.
Medal upgrades are not uncommon in our nation. In 2014, More than twenty veterans of the Army were awarded the Medal of Honor because they had been denied the award due to ethnic reasons.
Most of the honorees were Jewish and Hispanics-Americans. Like Miller, most of them were deceased at the time of the upgrade. The decisions brought great joy to their family members, and to prudent members of the Congress and military.
Since I made my first appearance in Congress, I have advocated for a medal upgrade for Dorie Miller. I shall not stop now. Seaman Miller’s heroics and our nation warrant that justice prevails.