Dorie Miller and the legacy of World War II's African-American heroes
Dec 06, 2016 at 11:10 AM
Robert Van Druff was a Navy fire controlman aboard the USS Aylwin destroyer during the attack on Pearl Harbor, 75 years ago. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun video)
Langston Hughes could not have imagined how prophetic his words would become when he wrote:
"When Dorie Miller took gun in hand/Jim Crow started his last stand…."
Dorie Miller's heroic actions during the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, earned him a Navy Cross, but he was still serving as a cook two years later when he died after his ship was torpedoed. Other African American World War II naval heroes — Charles Jackson French, Leonard Roy Harmon, and William Pinckney — also served as cooks.
These men persevered as they realized that they were fighting a war on two fronts. Like all Americans, they were fighting the Axis, but they were also fighting to overcome the prejudice of their fellow sailors, Marines and soldiers as well as that of America's military.
Today African Americans are not barred from attending the U.S. Naval Academy, and all midshipmen/women exercise in the Wesley Brown Field House, named in honor of the academy's first African American graduate.
The Navy has named ships in honor of African Americans. Fifty African Americans have reached the rank of admiral, including Michelle Howard, the first woman (of any color) to become a four-star admiral.
Only by understanding our past can we appreciate the present and the changes that 75 years have wrought in today's military where men and women are judged on their abilities and not pre-judged by the color of their skin, their religion, gender or sexual orientation.