Remembering Pearl Harbor

 

Doris “Dorie” Miller was a Mess Attendant working on the USS West Virginia. Like most mornings, he rose before dawn for a dreary day of hauling trash, scrubbing dishes and prepping food for the battleship’s cook. While collecting the crew’s laundry, the General Quarters alarm sounded. Ships have drills all the time — even on Sunday mornings — but a sailor still must answer the call.

However this time he couldn’t get to his designated battle station. The torpedo-twisted metal proved this alarm was for real.

With nowhere else to report, Dorie ran to the deck to see what was happening. Being a former fullback for his Waco, Texas high school, one of the officers told him to carry the wounded to safety. Soon he was told the ship’s captain was seriously wounded and trapped on the bridge. After bringing the mortally-wounded officer through the fire and blood to a safer place, Dorie saw a .50 caliber Browning without a gunner.

Dorie was just a hash-slinger. He wasn’t trained on pistols, let alone anti-aircraft guns. But his shipmates needed him.

“It wasn’t hard,” Dorie explained. “I just pulled the trigger and she worked fine. I had watched the others with these guns. I guess I fired her for about 15 minutes. I think I got one… they were diving pretty close to us.” He stayed at the gun until he ran out of ammo. Then he refused to leave his new post until he was ordered to abandon ship.

Dorie earned the Navy Cross that day, pinned to his chest by Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz. A couple of years later, Dorie’s new ship was sunk by a Japanese sub. This time, he didn’t make it.

In his honor, a new warship was named after Dorie. FF-1091, the USS Miller.

The photo above holds a special resonance for me. Miller is giving a speech standing on the same warped floorboards I marched across with my Navy bootcamp drill team in Great Lakes, Ill. Thankfully, I never had to fight active battles, but enjoyed the luxury of merely maintaining the peace.

Since my submarine was based out of Pearl Harbor, I often looked across the waters and skies and wondered what it must have been like that awful Sunday morning 76 years ago today. Thanks to heroes like Petty Officer Miller, I never had to experience a day of infamy firsthand.

A version of this article was published Dec. 7, 2014.

Published in History, Military
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There are 7 comments.

  1. Contributor

    Thank you, Jon.

    • #1
    • December 7, 2017 at 9:56 am
    • 3 likes
  2. Member

    A story like this reminds me of why most war stories focus on a small group of soldiers. It’s because a war is too big a story to tell, being made up of a million small stories like this.

    • #2
    • December 7, 2017 at 10:24 am
    • 7 likes
  3. Member

    Here’s an interesting look at events that might have informed Japanese planning for the Pearl Harbor attack – and should have influenced the defenses of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Should have.

    Just over a year before the Japanese struck, two dozen biplanes from the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm staged a night attack on Italian battleships and other ships anchored in the harbor at Taranto. The U.S. Navy’s Lieutenant Commander John N. Opie, an assistant naval attaché at the US embassy in London, was aboard the Royal Navy aircraft carrier Illustrious as an observer.

    Opie’s report noted:

    •  AA [Anti-Aircraft] fire is not effective
    • Low flying planes attacking ships limit shipboard gunnery for fear of hitting friendly ships.
    • Strain on pilots was intense, doubt that they could have made a second attack
    • Some believe that ships should put to sea on moonlit nights, rather than try to defend in harbor.
    • RN [Royal Navy] has given up on high level bombing, and prefers torpedo attack to dive bombing.

    What did the US Navy do?

    …the “thinking Navy”—the staff officers in their Washington offices—was downplaying aerial torpedo attacks, the “fighting Navy” out on duty with the fleets had a different response. In February Rear Admiral John S. McCain and in March Vice Admiral William F. Halsey Jr. wrote letters to the chief of the Bureau of Ordnance concerning aerial torpedoes. Both letters began by citing “recent developments” in the European war, and both requested that the bureau develop new and improved aerial torpedoes for the fleet. Rear Admiral Aubrey W. Fitch made 55 copies of Opie’s report and on 3 March sent them to almost every senior officer in naval aviation. All three officers showed an awareness of the success of torpedo attacks in the European fighting that was lacking among the staff officers back in Washington.

    Sadly, the bureaucrats prevailed over the fighting sailors. The Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor was essentially defenseless against carrier aircraft, and torpedo planes in particular.

    But beyond being aware of the RN’s successful torpedo attack on battleships anchored in shallow water did lessons learned at Taranto inform Japanese planners of the attack on Pearl Harbor?

    Maybe. In June 1941 a Japanese military mission visited Italy.

    The Italians wanted to learn about carrier operations because dictator Benito Mussolini had recently approved the conversion of two liners to aircraft carriers. The Japanese wanted to know about the operation of the Italian navy, providing a list of 83 topics for discussion. “Finally the Japanese showed great interest in the aerial torpedo attack against the ships anchored at Taranto the night of November 11, 1940.”

    Due to security in the planning process for “the Hawaii operation,” the members of the Japanese mission were not in the planning loop for Pearl Harbor. If their report did give guidance to the planners, we don’t know for sure.

    For more, read the linked articles.

    Hat tip: Peter Grant at bayourenaissanceman.blogspot.com.

    • #3
    • December 7, 2017 at 10:30 am
    • 3 likes
  4. Member

    Thank you very much for this beautiful (perhaps bittersweet might be a better fit) account, and may God Bless their Souls.

    Sincerely, Jim.

    • #4
    • December 7, 2017 at 10:36 am
    • 1 like
  5. Member

    Jim George (View Comment):
    Thank you very much for this beautiful (perhaps bittersweet might be a better fit) account, and may God Bless their Souls.

    Sincerely, Jim.

    You and Judge Mental (#2 above) couldn’t have said it better. And my thanks, as well, Jon.

    • #5
    • December 7, 2017 at 10:48 am
    • 1 like
  6. Coolidge

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: Since my submarine was based out of Pearl Harbor, I often looked across the waters and skies and wondered what it must have been like that awful Sunday morning 76 years ago today.

    I saw these photos released by the Navy of Pearl Harbor then superimposed on Pearl Harbor now. I found them very striking and very moving.

    • #6
    • December 7, 2017 at 11:30 pm
    • 2 likes
  7. Thatcher

    Franken is good enough, he’s smart enough, and doggone it, he stole that election fair and square.

    • #7
    • December 8, 2017 at 2:45 am
    • 1 like