Doris Miller was an “improbable American hero,” write authors Thomas W. Cutrer and T. Michael Parrish in “Doris Miller: Pearl Harbor and the Birth of the Civil Rights Movement” (Texas AM University Press, $24.95 hardcover).
Because of racial segregation, Miller was assigned to the Navy’s mess branch, as a waiter for white officers. And that’s what he was doing on Dec. 7, 1941, when Japanese bombers attacked Pearl Harbor.
“He stepped onto the bridge of his ship, the USS West Virginia,” they write, “where he moved his mortally wounded captain to a place of greater safety and then manned a Browning .50-caliber gun, a weapon in which he – in common with all of his fellow messmen – had no training. He continued firing at the swarming bombers and torpedo planes until he was out of ammunition and ordered to abandon the sinking ship.”
Miller’s heroics earned him the Navy Cross, “the first black sailor ever so decorated.”
After a speaking and bond promotion tour in the U.S., Miller returned to active duty and was killed in action on Nov. 23, 1943, when his ship was torpedoed and sunk.
Cutrer and Parrish tell Miller’s life story in about 100 pages plus footnotes and point out that Miller’s true story, while certainly heroic, was not quite as dramatic as the way he was portrayed in the 2001 movie Pearl Harbor, starring Cuba Gooding Jr. as Miller shooting down enemy planes from the USS Arizona.
Movie critic Jess Cagle, formerly of Abilene and now editor of People magazine, wrote at the time that the movie “reaches for historical accuracy – at least until it gets in the way of the main story.”
But, the authors note, Miller’s actions and resulting fame “developed in Congress and in the armed services a greater awareness and sensitivity to the attitudes, talents, aspirations, and loyalties of black men and women to their country,” which helped launch the civil rights movement.
Vietnam Era Novel: Lubbock screenwriter and author C. David Stephens keeps the action flowing in his novel, “Every Mother’s Son” (Llano Estacado Publishing, $15.99 paperback), set in 1969 in the small fictional West Texas town of Preston.
The story revolves around three principal characters.
Kevin Frazier has just returned from combat in Vietnam. Meanwhile, his best friend and fellow football star Bobby Dalton is about to be shipped out.
Bobby’s steady girlfriend, Amy Evans, decides to give her beau a special going-away present, and Kevin promises to take care of her while Bobby is in Vietnam.
But, of course, things get complicated, and Amy and Kevin – and their friends and families – are caught up in the fallout.
Glenn Dromgoole, co-author of 101 Essential Texas Books, writes about Texas books and authors. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.