On December 7, 1941, when the Japanese made their infamous surprise attack at Pearl Harbor, a black cook, Doris "Dorie" Miller
took over a machine gun aboard theUSS West Virginia
and became one of the first heroes of World War II. Miller dragged the ship's commanding officer, Capt. Bennion out of the line of fire, and manned the ship's machine gun. Despite shooting down several attacking aircraft his citiation for bravery his citation reads: "For distinguished devotion to duty, extraordinary courage and disregard for his own personal safety during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, by Japanese forces on December 7, 1941. While at the side of his Captain on the bridge, Miller, despite enemy strafing and bombing and in the face of a serious fire, assisted in moving his Captain, who had been mortally wounded, to a place of greater safety, and later manned and operated a machine gun directed at enemy Japanese attacking aircraft until ordered to leave the bridge."
Like Miller, no African-American sailor or officer was ever recommended for or awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor. They served despite many other similar heroic efforts, and under extremely oppresive conditions during World War II. Many often fought a quiet, internal battle with officers who consistantly implemented unlawful orders, denied them equal protection under the Constitution, and generally put their men at risk in the face of the enemy.