Despite racial discrimination and second-class status within the enlisted corps, the U.S. Navy's mess attendants, officer's cooks, and stewards compiled a proud legacy of combat service in World War II. The heroism of a few like "Dorie" Miller became well known to the American public, but most have long been forgotten. This book tells the story of those thousands of unheralded sailors of African descent who served in frontline combat with fellow "messmen" of Filipino, Guamanian, and Chinese ancestry from the first day of war to the last. Their story begins with recruit training in the racially segregated confines of Norfolk, Virginia's Units K-West and B-East during the 1930s and proceeds through the perilous early months of war. Though long disparaged as "seagoing chambermaids" and worse, they gallantly upheld the honor of their race while shedding their blood in full proportion in some of history's greatest naval battles.
For this first major study of the subject, Richard E. Miller draws on a wealth of previously untapped primary documents and more than forty oral history interviews that he conducted. The men he interviewed served at the Naval Academy and aboard ships of all types prior to their wartime service. Miller focuses on the period from late 1932, when the Navy reopened its doors to black men, to 1943, when the ranks of the re-named "steward's branch" had grown and become transformed by the influx of wartime inductees. Collectively, the interviews cover nearly every naval campaign in the first two years of war. This unexplored perspective of the U.S. Navy puts a face on the "greatest generation's" last overlooked heroes while making a significant contribution to the operational, social, and cultural history of the U.S. Navy.