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Attack on Pearl Harbor
Miller was born in Waco, Texas, on October 12, 1919, to Henrietta and Connery Miller. He was the third of four sons and grew up in a strong and loving household. He enjoyed playing with his brothers but was also a considerate child. He often helped around the house, cooking meals and doing laundry, as well as working the fields. Miller was a good student and a fullback on the football team at Waco's A.J. Moore High School. They called him the "Raging Bull" because of his size (5 ft 9 in, over 200 lb - 1,75 m, over 90 kg).
He worked on his father's farm until enlisting in the United States Navy as Mess Attendant, Third Class in September 1939. Following training at the Naval Training Station, Norfolk, Virginia, Miller was assigned to the ammunition ship USS Pyro where he served as a Mess Attendant, and on January 2, 1940 was transferred to USS West Virginia, where he became the ship's heavyweight boxing champion. In July of that year he had temporary duty aboard USS Nevada at Secondary Battery Gunnery School. He returned to the USS West Virginia on August 3, 1941.
Attack on Pearl Harbor
Miller awoke at 6:00 A.M. and was collecting laundry when the alarm for general quarters was sounded. He headed for his battle station, the antiaircraft battery magazine amidship, only to discover that torpedo damage had destroyed it. He went on deck where he was assigned to carry wounded fellow sailors to safer locations. When Captain Mervyn Bennion was injured by a bomb splinter, an officer ordered Miller to the bridge to help in the effort to move him to a place of relative safety. Miller picked him up and attempted to carry him to a first-aid station; the Captain refused to leave his post and remained on the bridge until his death.
When directed to assist in loading a pair of unattended Browning .50 caliber anti-aircraft guns, Miller took control of one and began firing at the Japanese planes, even though he had no training in operating the weapon. He fired the gun until he ran out of ammunition. Japanese aircraft eventually dropped two armor-piercing bombs through the deck of the battleship and launched 5 × 18 in. (457 mm) aircraft torpedoes into her port side. Heavily damaged by the ensuing explosions, and suffering from severe flooding below decks, the West Virginia slowly settled to the harbor bottom as her crew—including Miller—abandoned ship.
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 presented to Miller on board aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6) for his extraordinary courage in battle.