On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, Doris “Dorie” Miller, a mess attendant on the battleship USS West Virgina (BB-48), was serving breakfast and collecting laundry while the ship was moored at the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor. A few minutes before 8 a.m., the ship was struck by the first of seven torpedoes dropped by Japanese aircraft during their surprise attack on the base.
Dorie immediately raced to his battle station, but found it had already been destroyed. He was then ordered to the ship’s bridge to help move the ship’s captain, who was wounded in the initial attack, to safety.
Although untrained in the ship’s weapons systems, Dorie later seized control of one of the West Virginia’s .50 caliber anti-aircraft machine gun and began firing at enemy aircraft. He was officially credited with shooting down at least two Japanese warplanes.
“I think I got one of those Jap planes,” Dorie would say later. “They were diving pretty close to us.”
As the West Virginia continued to sink, the order was given to abandon ship. Dorie’s selfless and courageous efforts to help save members of the crew and protect his ship were not forgotten. In May 1942, he became the first African American to be awarded the Navy Cross, which was presented to him by Admiral Chester Nimitz, the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.
Dorie Miller’s heroic actions were the emphasis of the USS Midway Museum’s annual Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day commemoration ceremony, held on the ship’s flight deck. Dorie’s story was told by the ceremony’s guest speaker, retired Master Chief Petty Officer Keith Goosby. He reminded the more than 350 attendees not only of Dorie’s gallant efforts during the attack, but what they meant for sailors, especially African American sailors, moving forward.
“Dorie Miller opened up doors for people like me,” said Keith, who served 30 years in the Navy. “He helped make it possible for all of us to be sitting here today.”
Unfortunately, Dorie and 643 other sailors, lost their lives when their escort carrier, the USS Liscome Bay (CVE-56), was sunk near the Makin Atoll in the South Pacific in November 1943, after being struck by a torpedo from a Japanese submarine. For Keith, he reflected on what a sailor like Dorie Miller meant to him decades later.
“There are many things that I have achieved and people tell me that I had a great career,” said Keith, currently the work and family life coordinator for Navy Region Southwest. “I have to go back in time and say, yeah, but there were people like Dorie who paved the way for me.”
The valor shown by Dorie Miller 82 years ago was reflected in the actions of many who were at Pearl Harbor that fateful day. For Patrick Schenkelberg, his father was no less of a hero.
“While under attack, he drove a torpedo train from his shop out to Ford Island,” said Patrick, whose father, Clayton Schenkelberg, passed away in 2021 at the age of 103. “He then ran all the way back to the shop, picked up a weapon and began shooting at the enemy to defend the shop.”
With the loss of Pearl Harbor survivors like Clayton, there are very few of those who fought in Hawaii more than eight decades ago who are still alive today. Patrick feels it’s critical that their stories of service and sacrifice are passed down to future generations.
“I want to make sure that people today still try to remember this day and remember what Dec. 7 meant to this country,” reflected Patrick. “There are few survivors left to tell the story today, but it’s important to remember and talk about it. These are stories you don’t read in books or see in movies. They are real stories of how they fought and how they survived.”
“My dad was an amazing man,” said Clayton’s daughter Carrie. “There was a reason why they called them the greatest generation. They did what they did for their country. He did what he had to do because it was his duty.”
The stories of Dorie Miller and Clayton Schenkelberg are just a few of the thousands upon thousands of narratives that reflect the solidarity of the country and its ability to act collectively for a common cause, especially during the most challenging times.
“There are things and issues that we deal with in life, but when it comes down to the defense of the nation, it seems that Americans can put their differences aside and come together as a team,” said Keith. “We serve and do what it takes to defend our nation.”