Friday, December 7, 2012

Miller Time

It is reasonable to presume that most Americans under the age of fifty - irrespective of gender or race - recognize the name Lebron James.  I would be willing to wager that far fewer - again irrespective of gender or race - would recognize the name Doris "Dorie" Miller. 

On December 7, 1941 Miller was a cook on the U.S.S. West Virginia.  When the call for "general alarm" sounded on his ship that morning - as it did all along Battleship Row in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, he did was a sailor does when the ship he is on is under attack:  he manned a post.  After initially being deployed to help carry wounded to safety (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) and being sent to the bridge to assist the West Virginia's captain - who died that morning - Miller manned a 50 caliber Browning anti-aircraft machine gun until he ran out of ammunition and was ordered to abandon ship. 

Miller described firing the machine gun during the battle, a weapon which he had not been trained to operate: "It wasn't hard. I just pulled the trigger and she worked fine. I had watched the others with these guns. I guess I fired her for about fifteen minutes. I think I got one of those Jap planes. They were diving pretty close to us."  Dorie Miller became the first African-American sailor in the United States Navy's Pacific Fleet to be awarded the Navy Cross, which he received on May 27, 1942. 

Approximately eighteen months after he was awarded the Navy Cross for  his actions in the face of seemingly impossible odds at Pearl Harbor, Miller was killed in action.  He was aboard the USS Liscome Bay when it was struck and sunk by a Japanese torpedo.  Sadly, his body was never recovered.  Listed as missing following the loss of that escort carrier, Miller was officially presumed dead 25 November 1944, a year and a day after the loss of Liscome Bay. Only 272 Sailors survived the sinking of Liscome Bay.  Miller was one of 646 who died.

Seventy-one years ago today the United States of America was dragged kicking and screaming into World War II.  Nothing quite like a sneak attack on a naval base that obliterates a significant portion of your fleet and kills thousands of your servicemen and women and injures countless more to get your attention; eh?  If you are curious - as I was - you can find an alphabetical list of those killed that morning here.

The world today is not what it was seven-plus decades ago.  Those who were our enemies then are our allies now.  But irrespective of the shift in the geopolitical landscape from the middle of the twentieth century to the first quarter of the twenty-first century, there are certain fundamental precepts that remain unchanged.  There are certain truths that time has proven to be absolutes. 

First and foremost among them is that those among us who stand in harm's way in an effort to keep the rest of us from having to do so exist in numbers today equal to those that existed all those years ago.  We the people of these United States have always been blessed to count among our number those willing to man a post and to take up arms in support of our fundamental ideals.  The names have changed.  The theatres to which they are sent to fight and far too goddamn often to die have changed too.  But their commitment to  do that which must be done for however long it needs to be done remains inexorable.

A lesson that the Japanese likely had no notion they were setting themselves up to learn on a "TORA, TORA, TORA" Sunday morning seventy-one years ago.  And something that none of us, whether this is the land of our birth or the land that at some point thereafter became our home, should ever forget. 

Not now.  Not ever.


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