Doris “Dorie” Miller came to the defense of his country, and the USS West Virginia, in a time of dire need.
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Thanks to Veselicky’s persistence, WVU will honor Miller with a plaque at a ceremony celebrating the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor at 11 a.m. Dec. 7 at Oglebay Hall plaza. The event, sponsored by Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 548, is open to the public. Featured speakers are: WVU President Jim Clements; West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw; VFW #548 Commander Jonathan Friend; and Douglas E. Arnold, a WVU alumnus and U.S. Navy Captain.
Miller was a steward on the USS West Virginia who manned an anti-aircraft machine gun on deck and carried wounded soldiers to safety during the Japanese attack. Miller battled discrimination in public and in the service but became the first African-American to be awarded the Navy Cross. He was killed on Nov. 24, 1943, while serving his country.
“He’s a significant figure in American history and one who should not be forgotten,” Veselicky said. “He was the first African-American hero of World War II and an important figure in civil rights movements. There are not many pieces of Pearl Harbor left anymore and WVU has a significant piece – the mast from the battleship USS West Virginia. I thought Dorie Miller should be recognized here.”
Arnold, a 1984 WVU grad, is proud to be part of the ceremony.
“It’s a great opportunity to recognize a great sailor,” said Arnold. “Dorie Miller embodies the Navy’s core values of honor, courage and commitment.”
Veselicky, a U.S. Army veteran, noticed Oglebay’s memorial plaza had deteriorated while he was a student in the 1980s. The mast from the ship was unmarked and its paint was chipped. There were cracks in the plaza surface and surrounding brick wall.
After reading about Miller he campaigned to have the plaza refurbished and a new plaque added. He wrote a guest column in The Daily Athenaeum in 1988 reminding people of Miller’s role in the war and urging the University to add a memorial.
In 2007, a commemorative bronze plaque with the names of 106 sailors who died during the attack on the USS West Virginia was dedicated. Veselicky feels that Miller’s plaque will not only complete the Oglebay memorial but also serve as an educational tool and an inspiration.
“I’m just an American who believes what America stands for,” he said. “This has been on the back burner for awhile and I think it will make a beautiful and significant memorial a little bit better.”
Veselicky said the most significant development in getting the plaque dedicated was the “can-do” attitude of the WVU administration and VFW. He cited President Clements, WVU’s Office of University Events and Faculty Senate and VFW officials for their cooperation.
Ceremonies marking the anniversary of Pearl Harbor have taken place at Oglebay Plaza since the early 1970s. The USS West Virginia was one of the ships sunk in the attack on Pearl Harbor, but was raised and returned to service before the end of the war.
WVU’s Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity also coordinates bell-ringing services at the site, and it is also the site of many other military observances.
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