Mt. Soledad Memorial Day ceremony to honor first African American awarded the Navy Cross
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Doris (Dorie) Miller
Doris (Dorie) Miller
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Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial will be honoring Doris (Dorie) Miller with a special plaque during its Memorial Day ceremony, which will take place 2 to 3 p.m. on Monday, May 27. United States Navy sailor Miller is the first African American to receive the Navy Cross.

Miller, known as Dorie to shipmates and friends, was serving upon the USS West Virginia (BB-48) when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7 1941. Miller had arisen at 6 a.m., and was collecting laundry when the alarm for general quarters sounded.

He headed for his battle station, the antiaircraft battery magazine amidship, only to discover that torpedo damage had wrecked it, so he went on deck. Because of his physical prowess, he was assigned to carry wounded fellow sailors to places of greater safety.

Then an officer ordered him to the bridge to aid the mortally wounded captain of the ship. He subsequently manned a .50 caliber Browning anti-aircraft machine gun until he ran out of ammunition and was ordered to abandon ship.

Miller described firing the machine gun during the battle, a weapon that he had not been trained to operate: "It wasn't hard. I just pulled the trigger and she worked fine. I had watched the others with these guns. I guess I fired her for about 15 minutes. I think I got one of those Jap planes. They were diving pretty close to us."

Miller was commended by the Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox on April 1, 1942, and on May 27, 1942 he received the Navy Cross, which Fleet Admiral (then Admiral) Chester W. Nimitz, the commander in chief, Pacific Fleet personally presented to Miller on board aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6) for his extraordinary courage in battle.

While serving on the newly constructed USS Liscome Bay (CVE-56) at 5:10 a.m. on Nov. 24, a single torpedo from Japanese submarine I-175 struck the escort carrier near the stern. The aircraft bomb magazine detonated a few moments later, sinking the warship within minutes. Listed as missing following the loss of that escort carrier, Miller was officially presumed dead Nov. 25, 1944, a year and a day after the loss of Liscome Bay.

KEYNOTE SPEAKER

Major Gen. Anthony Jackson, USMC Retired, served most recently as the director of California State Parks and Recreation from November 2012 through June 2014. Previously, he retired from the United States Marine Corps on Jan. 1, 2012 after more than 36 years of service. Today, he sits on the Board of the California State San Marcos Foundation and the State of California Governor's Military Council.

During his Marine Corps career, primarily serving as an infantry officer, he had the privilege of command at every rank from 2nd lieutenant to major general. As an infantry officer, he commanded from platoon to regiment size organizations.

His first assignment as a general officer was as deputy commander for Marine Forces Central Command. He served in that assignment from 2005 to 2007 during Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom, Afghanistan and Operation Enduring Freedom, Horn of Africa.

His next assignment was as the first director of operations (J-3) and logistics (J-4), U.S. Africa Command. He served in that capacity from September 2007 to August 2009. His last assignment prior to retiring was commanding general, Marine Corps Installations-West. In that capacity, he oversaw the operation of six Marine Corps bases and stations in California and Arizona.

MEMORIAL DAY HISTORY

After the Civil War, local springtime tributes to the dead had been held in various locations. One of the first occurred in Columbus, Miss., April 25, 1866, when a group of women visited a cemetery to decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers who had fallen in battle at Shiloh. Nearby were the graves of Union soldiers, neglected because they were the enemy. Disturbed at the sight of the bare graves, the women placed some of their flowers on those graves, as well.

Macon and Columbus, Ga., and Richmond, Va. claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day, first held in 1866. The village of Boalsburg, Pa., claims it began there two years earlier. A stone in a Carbondale, Ill., cemetery carries the statement that the first Decoration Day ceremony took place there on April 29, 1866. Approximately 25 places have been named in connection with the origin of Memorial Day, many of them in the South where most of the war dead were buried.

In 1966, Congress and President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, N.Y., the “birthplace” of Memorial Day. There, a ceremony on May 5, 1866, honored local veterans who had fought in the Civil War. Businesses closed and residents flew flags at half-staff. Supporters of Waterloo’s claim say earlier observances in other places were either informal, not community-wide or one-time events.

By the end of the 19th century, Memorial Day ceremonies were being held on May 30 throughout the nation. State legislatures passed proclamations designating the day, and the Army and Navy adopted regulations for proper observance at their facilities. It was not until after World War I, however, that the day was expanded to honor those who have died in all American wars.

In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress, though it was still often called Decoration Day. It was then also placed on the last Monday in May, as were some other federal holidays.

To ensure the sacrifices of America ’s fallen heroes are never forgotten, in December 2000, the U.S. Congress passed and the president signed into law “The National Moment of Remembrance Act,” P.L. 106-579, creating the White House Commission on the National Moment of Remembrance.

The National Moment of Remembrance encourages all Americans to pause wherever they are at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day for a minute of silence to remember and honor those who have died in service to the nation.

MT. SOLEDAD NATIONAL VETERANS MEMORIAL

The Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial is one of the most unique veterans memorials in the United States and stands high on La Jolla’s Mt. Soledad, offering panoramic views of San Diego, the mountains, the Pacific Ocean and Mexico.

It is the only memorial that honors veterans, living or deceased, from the Revolutionary War to the current war on terrorism, with an image of the veteran. More than 5,000 individual veteran tributes, embedded on black granite plaques, are mounted onto 11 curved walls honoring our United States veterans.

The Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial was originally conceived in 1952 by American Legion Post 275 of La Jolla, California. That same year, working closely with the American Legion Post, the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association was incorporated.

In 2000, the association expanded the memorial with the addition of six curved walls that featured black granite plaques etched with the faces and stories of individual veterans who served in times of war in the five branches of the military – Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and Air Force – as well Merchant Marines during World War II.

The Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial Association owns and operates the memorial. For more information, visit soledadmemorial.com.
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