Today on the Brett Winterble Show, in Celebration of Black History Month, we salute Dorie Miller as our hero of the day.

You can hear the segment here.

As human beings, we think of heroes as super-human somehow. When you watch the first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan, you get a sense of the hell on earth the beaches of Normandy were on June 6th, 1944. And then you realize the ordinariness of these heroes who quite literally established the beachhead that saved all of the human liberty. They ran into the gunfire and the mortar fire because, well, frankly, there was no going back.

It is the same as the heroes we saw on September 11th, the police and firefighters and ordinary people running into the towers and the pentagon, and fought back aboard United Flight 93 to save lives on that brutal morning. The very same spirit is in all of us.

But before 911, before D-Day, there was December 7th, 1941 and the attack on the United States at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Before those heroes, Doris Miller was the son of Texas sharecroppers and grandson of Slaves. He witnessed horrible atrocities against Black Texans in his home town of Waco. Dorie knew he wanted to do something more with his life he enlisted in the United States Navy.

As the Navy Times noted, “At that time, black men serving in the Navy were not only ineligible for promotion, they were consigned to the lowly messman branch, where they were tasked with making the beds and shining the shoes of their white officers and waiting on them in the officers’ mess. As one of Miller’s fellow messmen said, they were merely “seagoing bellhops, chambermaids, and dishwashers.” By regulation, they could not be trained in or assigned to any other specialty, such as signals, engineering, or gunnery. Their battle station was below decks in the “hole” or magazine, where they passed ammunition up to the gunners. They were not even allowed to wear buttons marked with the Navy’s insignia, an anchor entwined with a chain, and had to wear plain buttons instead.

When the Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor, the USS West Virginia was mortally struck by torpedoes and bombs. Still, Dorie Miller rose to greatness by taking the initiative to man an anti-aircraft gun and firing at Japanese planes until he ran out of ammunition.

Even when his nation failed to live up to its promises, Dorie Miller kept his oath to preserve and defend the United States of America.