Doris Miller, Battle Creek and why people need to read books


If you have ever driven Highway 31 south and west toward Waco, Texas, you have passed Doris Miller Memorial Cemetery on your right hand.  It’s a small graveyard, easy to miss bunched up against industrial warehouses and modest homes.

Doris Miller was a he, not a she, who pronounced his first name Dorie. He was a true hero twice over, now almost forgotten except for one thing:

December 7, 1941. 

The day Franklin Roosevelt said would live in infamy.

For Doris Miller was the Black American sailor, a cook by trade, who manned a 50-caliber anti-aircraft gun when the Japanese attacked the West Virginia in Pearl Harbor.

You remember, Cuba Gooding played him in the movie.

What ever happened to Doris Miller?

That’s why I said he was a hero twice over.  He survived Pearl Harbor, but not WWII.

After Pearl Harbor, Miller eventually was assigned to an escort carrier.  On November 24, 1943, a single torpedo from a Japanese submarine struck the carrier, and it sank with great loss of life.  One of those fallen whose body was never recovered was Doris Miller.

So the next time you make that drive, watch along the side of the road and when you see the sign, pull in and pay your respects to the memory of a great American patriot.


Only fifty miles or so up Highway 31 from Doris Miller Cemetery there is another lonely spot.  A lone oak with a limestone monument is all that is left to tell the story of another battle long forgotten.

I had passed that spot hundreds of times in my life, always too busy or too distracted to turn off the road.  I drove up the small drive and parked next to the single tree.  A historical marker told the story of Battle Creek. A band of surveyors on that spot in 1838 ignored the warnings of a group of Kickapoo Indians.  A massacre ensued leaving most of the white surveyors dead, the others fleeing and wounded. When the dust settled some time later, the surviving members of the surveying party returned to bury their comrades in a common grave.


Visiting Doris Miller Memorial Cemetery and the Battle Creek Monument in the course of an hour or so made me realize how little I know about the events that have shaped our state and our country.

And it made me realize why the world needs writers, people who will bring these events back to life to remind us of where we have been and caution us about where we may be going.


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