After the attack
Following the attack, Brizill said, the military didn’t want to draw attention to Miller’s heroism.
“At first, the Navy kind of kept his story quiet, but enough people had witnessed his courage to talk about it,” he said. “It spread by word of mouth that this black cook on the ship did some heroic deeds.”
According to Brizill, the Secretary of the Navy was satisfied with giving Miller a congratulatory letter, but The Pittsburgh Courier, an influential African-American paper, and the NAACP advocated for Miller to be publicly recognized.
Miller became the first African-American to be awarded the Navy Cross, the second highest award U.S. Navy personnel can earn, following the Congressional Medal of Honor.
According to Brizill, many people then and today believe Miller should have received the Medal of Honor. However, efforts to award Miller the nation’s highest militar y honor were denied.
It was also common for war heroes to go on tour and raise bonds for the war. But unlike his white counterparts, Miller was not allowed to do so initially, Brizill said.
Again, the Courier newspaper stepped in and advocated for Miller to be able to go on tour, which he was eventually granted permission to do.
After he returned from his tour, Miller was stationed on the an escort carrier. Japanese forces sunk the ship, killing over 600 sailors, including Miller, Brizill said.
Brizill said Miller’s exclusion from many publications was due in part to Miller’s race, while another part was the fact that he lived a short life, having died two years after the Pearl Harbor attack.
“He didn’t really get an opportunity to promote himself, to tell his story like you see in these documentaries on World War II of people who are able to be there front and center,” Brizill said.