For Immediate Release
Contact: Joe DioGuardi (914)-671-8583
New York – In an effort to correct a longstanding racial injustice, former Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Rep. Mickey Leland, and I introduced two bills on October 20, 1987 to posthumously award The Medal of Honor to two extraordinarily brave African American servicemen who fought for the United States in World Wars I and II, at the request of military historian Dr. Leroy Ramsey. (While many African Americans received citations and awards for their valiant service during World Wars I and II, the US military consistently had refused to present our nation’s highest military award, The Medal of Honor, to many who deserved it.)
The two House bills, H.R. 3509 and H.R. 3510, documented the distinguished records, respectively, of Henry Johnson of Albany, New York, who fought in World War I, and Dorie Miller of Waco Texas, who fought in World War II, and called for the “statute of limitations” to be waived on awarding The Medal of Honor to each of them.
Johnson, who was part of the all Black American 369th Army division known as the “Harlem Hellfighters”, served above and beyond the call of duty in France during World War I. In a battle in the French countryside, Johnson was cited for killing four enemy soldiers, rescuing a wounded comrade, capturing a stockpile of enemy weapons, and doing all of this in spite of the severe wounds that he received in this combat. For his actions, France awarded Henry Johnson its highest award—the Croix de Guerre with a gold palm leaf. Johnson died in 1930, penniless and homeless looking for a pension in Washington, DC. Thankfully, he finally was awarded The Medal of Honor at a White House ceremony on May 14, 2015. I was invited to the ceremony, as was Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, who with his dedicated staff had worked long and hard to revive and amend the original Medal of Honor application for Johnson.
Dorie Miller served at Pearl Harbor aboard the USS West Virginia. On December 7, 1941, Miller risked his life at the side of his Captain on the bridge of the West Virgina. In the face of unrelenting enemy strafing and bombing, Miller assisted in moving his mortally wounded Captain to a place of greater safety and then returned to man a 50-mm machine gun directed at the massively attacking Japanese air force. (He shot down four Japanese fighter planes attacking his ship, and did not abandon his position until ordered to do so later in the battle.) Miller’s actions are especially heroic due to the fact that he was a mess steward, the only duty available to African Americans in the Navy at that time. For his actions, he received the Navy Cross, the Navy’s highest award.
A warship and a U.S. postage stamp were later named in his honor. Dorie Miller was killed in 1943 during a torpedo attack on the battleship he was serving two years after his heroism at Pearl Harbor. (The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened in 2016, includes an impressive exhibit devoted to his story.)
As the original sponsor of the legislation with Congressman Mickey Leland in 1987, I said at the time, “Of the one and a half million Black Americans who fought for our country in World Wars I and II, not one was honored with our nation’s highest military honor—The Medal of Honor. Congress saw fit to honor 549 other servicemen who fought for our country by awarding them Medals of Honor during the two World Wars. Surely, the heroism of Black Americans who similarly fought to preserve our way of life should be recognized. The time has come to correct this egregious racial stain on America.”
Yes, the time has come to set the record straight on racial injustice in America and to now correct it in the case of Dorie Miller, seventy-seven years after his heroic actions to save his Captain and the USS West Virginia at extreme risk to his own life.
I have carried on this mission for Dorrie Miller for over 30 years, in the memory of my good friend Congressman Mickey Leland, who died tragically in a plane crash in 1989 while leading a delegation, as Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Select Committee on Hunger, to deliver food and medicine to the poor and starving people of Ethiopia.