world war ii: us navy

29 Days of February - 29 Photos of African Americans throughout Naval History. ‪#‎BlackHistoryMonth‬

Original Caption:
US Navy African-American Navy Cross-awarded gun crew: Jonell Copeland, Que Gant, Harold Clark Jr., James Eddie Dockery, Alonzo Alexander Swann, Eli Benjamin; circa 1945. (National Archives Photo # 80-G-334029)

Doris “Dorie” Miller was born in Waco, Texas in 1919. He was unable to finish high school, but helped around the family farm until just before his 20th birthday. He then enlisted with the Navy as a Messman, one of the few positions open to African-Americans.

On December 7th, 1941, Miller was a Messman Third Class serving on the USS West Virginia. He was a ship’s cook, with minimal combat training and no gunnery training, as the military was still segregated and African-Americans were not trained on the heavy guns.

When the bombs began dropping on Pearl Harbor, Miller ran to the deck of the ship and began assisting moving the wounded, including the captain of the ship. He then jumped on one of the anti-aircraft guns on deck and proceeded to try to shoot the Japanese planes down until ordered to abandon ship, at which point he continued to help move wounded soldiers from the ship.

Miller was hailed as the “Number One Hero” for African-Americans and considered one of the first American heroes of WWII. He was awarded the Navy Cross and after a massive community campaign, went on a war bond tour.

Miller returned to service on the Liscome Bay, where he died when the ship was lost at the battle of Makin Island.

Bonus: Admiral Nimitz, a native of Fredericksburg, Texas and CINCPAC during WWII, pinning the Navy Cross on Dorie Miller.

75 years ago today - December 7 1941

Destroyers USS Downes DD-375 (left) USS Cassin DD-372 (leaning against Downes) and the Battleship USS Pennsylvania BB-38.

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, USS Downes was in dry-dock with ‘Cassin’ and 'Pennsylvania’. The three came under heavy attack and an incendiary bomb landed between the two destroyers, starting raging fires fed by oil from a ruptured fuel tank. Despite heavy strafing, the crews of the two destroyers got their batteries into action, driving off further attacks by Japanese planes.
The dry-dock was flooded in an effort to quench the fires, but the burning oil rose with the water level and when the ammunition and torpedo warheads on board the destroyers began to explode, the two ships were abandoned. Later 'Cassin’ slipped from her keel blocks and rested against 'Downes’. Both ship’s hulls were damaged beyond repair but machinery and equipment were salvaged and sent to Mare Island Navy Yard where entirely new ships were built around the salvaged material and given the wrecked ship’s names and hull numbers.

USS Pennsylvania managed to escape the dubious honor of having been on Battleship Row during the attack on Pearl Harbor, but this fortunate set of circumstances also did not give her as much visibility in the public eye. For the older battleships present during the attack, 'Oklahoma’ and 'Arizona’ were destroyed and 'Nevada’ gained fame attempting to escape out of the harbor. And the newer “Big Five” battleships would be resurrected and some would be completely transformed to the point they were almost unrecognizable. But 'Pennsylvania’, stuck in drydock, became best known for being in the background. In this case, the background for the wrecks of the destroyers 'Cassin’ and 'Downes’.

'Pennsylvania’ sustained relatively minor damage during the Pearl Harbor attack, then spent much of 1942 training and conducting patrols of the United States west coast. In early 1943 she was sent to the Aleutians to help force out the Japanese forces on Attu and Kiska.

(Colourised by Royston Leonard from the UK)

“Flying dangerously close, a U.S. Navy photographer got this spectacular aerial view of a heavy Japanese cruiser of the Mogima class, demolished by Navy bombs, in the battle of Midway, in June of 1942. Armor plate, steel decks and superstructure are a tumbled mass.”

(AP)

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The USS Utah was one of many losses suffered by the United States during the attack on Pearl Harbor. ​​Of the 525 men aboard, 64 lost their lives. Among those who died was Chief Watertender Peter Tomich. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for remaining below to help others escape as the ship capsized. 

United States Navy. The USS Utah, shown capsized following Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. December 7, 1941. New-York Historical Society. 

“The Japanese aircraft carrier Soryu maneuvers to avoid bombs dropped by Army Air Forces B-17 Flying Fortresses during the Battle of Midway, on June 4, 1942.”

(US Navy)

“This aerial photograph made on day five of the invasion shows the immense power needed to break the back of Japanese Resistance on Iwo Jima, on March 17, 1945. Just off the beach, landing craft await their chance at the unloading area while small boats from the transports ply back and forth bring assault troops and returning wounded for treatment. Further out, the transports themselves faintly along the horizon, the protective screen of destroyers, destroyer escorts and cruisers can be seen. On the island, Marine tanks can be spotted moving through the rough terrain toward the first airfield at left.”

(AP)