Navy to Name Aircraft Carrier for Pearl Harbor Hero Doris Miller, Navy Cross Recipient

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2020, Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly announced in a ceremony at Pearl Harbor that a $12.5 billion aircraft carrier, a Gerald R. Ford-class vessel, will be named after Mess Attendant 2nd Class Doris Miller. 

US Navy Aircraft Carrier to Honor Black Sailor

Miller was the first Black sailor to receive the Navy Cross for valor. On December 7, 1941, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Miller handled a machine gun on the USS West Virginia to fire back against attacking Japanese planes.

“I think that Doris Miller is an American hero simply because of what he represents as a young man going beyond the call of what’s expected,” said Doreen Ravenscroft, president of Cultural Arts of Waco (Texas) and team leader for the Doris Miller Memorial. “In 1941, an African American was not allowed to operate a gun in the Navy, and as far as the rank was concerned, “he could not really get above a Messman level. Miller’s actions started to turn the tide. Without him really knowing, he actually was a part of the civil rights movement because he changed the Navy’s thinking. In the end, the fact that he didn’t think about what could be repercussions— that wasn’t a thought when, at the time and in war, he did what was needed in his way to defend the United States of America,” she said. 

Ravenscroft added, “Dorie” was a nickname that the Navy gave Miller, while his family is extremely particular that he be called Doris Miller.” USS Miller, a destroyer escort, previously had been named in honor of the Pearl Harbor veteran. In addition to being the first Black sailor to receive the Navy Cross for valor, he will also be the first to have an aircraft carrier named after him, according to Navy records. However, the vessel is not expected to be based in Hawaii.

What Miller Did On Dec 7 1941

On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, Miller, a mess attendant 2nd class at the time, was collecting laundry on  USS West Virginia’s battleship. However, he sprung into action when the battleship was torpedoed by the Japanese.

“He headed for his battle station, the anti-aircraft battery magazine at mid-ship, only to discover that torpedo damage had wrecked it, so he went on deck,” the Navy account states. “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 operated a .50- caliber Browning anti-aircraft machine gun until he ran out of ammunition and was ordered to abandon ship.”

In high school, Miller was a fullback, and on West Virginia, he was the ship’s heavyweight boxing champion. Due to his race, Miller had not been trained to operate the machine gun.

“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,” he said later, believing he “got” one of the Japanese planes.

Miller was born in Waco on October 12, 1919. He enlisted in the Navy in September 1939 as a mess attendant. Miller served aboard the USS Indianapolis from December 1941 to May 1943, the Navy said. He was then assigned to the escort carrier Liscome Bay. According to the Navy, Miller died on the ship when it was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine on November 24, 1943, during the invasion of the Gilbert Islands. 

The Navy has ordered four new Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers – the Ford, John F. Kennedy, Enterprise, and CVN 81, which has not been named – as successors to Nimitz-class vessels.

According to the shipbuilder, Huntington Ingalls Industries, the 1,092-foot Fords feature a new nuclear power plant, a redesigned island, electromagnetic catapults, improved weapons movement, and an enhanced flight deck capable of increased aircraft sortie rates.

The Navy has been fixing problems with weapons elevators on the USS Gerald R. Ford, commissioned in 2017. CVN 81 has a procurement cost of $12.5 billion. It is expected to be delivered in 2032.

Why is the Naming of a US Aircraft Carrier After Doris Miller Significant?

According to a 2019 Congressional Research Service report, during World War II, the War Department issued separate draft calls for black and white service members and maintained segregated training and unit assignments.

“The manpower needs of the Korean War (1950-1953) catalyzed racial integration in the services,” the report said. “Under pressure to rapidly build up and deploy forces, the Army lacked the time and resources to continue to operate separate training pipelines for black and white soldiers. Army and Marine Corps commanders began assigning black soldiers to replace losses in white combat units by necessity.” The Navy said that African Americans began commanding ships, submarines, and shore establishments in the 1960s and 1970s. 

Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, commander in chief of the Pacific Fleet, personally presented the Navy Cross to Miller on board the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise in Pearl Harbor on May 27, 1942. At the time, the Navy Cross was two steps lower in precedence than the Medal of Honor, but later that year, it was revised to be just one step lower.

Miller’s Navy Cross Citation

When Miller was awarded the Navy Cross, this is the citation that was given:

“For distinguished devotion to duty, extraordinary courage and disregard for his own personal safety during the attack on the fleet in Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, by Japanese forces on December 7, 1941. While at the side of his captain on the bridge, Miller, despite enemy strafing and bombing and in the face of a serious fire, assisted in moving his captain, who had been mortally wounded, to a place of greater safety, and later manned and operated a machine gun directed at enemy Japanese attacking aircraft until ordered to leave the bridge.”

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Tags: Korean War, Marine Corps, Navy Veterans, Pearl Harbor, US Army, US Navy, US Navy Veterans, USS Enterprise, USS West Virgina, WWII

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