A future Naval supercarrier named after an African American World War II hero who saved countless lives during the attack on Pearl Harbor is now on the drawing boards.
It is the second ship named in honor of Mess Attendant 2nd class Doris “Dorie” Miller and the first aircraft carrier ever named for an African American. The USS Doris Miller will also be the first aircraft carrier to be named in honor of a sailor for actions while serving in the enlisted ranks.
Plans to name the Ford-class aircraft carrier for Miller were originally announced earlier this year on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
“In selecting this name, we honor the contributions of all our enlisted ranks, past and present, men and women, of every race, religion and background,” said former acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas B. Modly. “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. observed, ‘Everybody can be great, because anybody can serve.’ No one understands the importance and true meaning of service than those who have volunteered to put the needs of others above themselves.”
According to naval records on Dec. 7, 1941, Miller was collecting laundry on the battleship USS West Virginia when the attack from Japanese forces commenced.
When the alarm for general quarters sounded he headed for his battle station, an anti-aircraft battery magazine, only to discover that torpedo damage had wrecked it.
Miller was ordered to the ship’s bridge to aid the mortally wounded commanding officer, and subsequently manned a .50 caliber Browning anti-aircraft machine gun until he ran out of ammunition.
Miller then helped move many other injured sailors as the ship was ordered abandoned due to fires and flaming oil floating down from the destroyed USS Arizona. The West Virginia lost 150 of its 1,500-person crew.
Miller described firing the machine gun during the battle, a weapon which Black sailors were forbidden to operate.
“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 fifteen minutes. I think I got one of those Jap planes. They were diving pretty close to us.”
His actions during the attack earned him a commendation from then-Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox and the Navy Cross, which was presented to him personally by Adm. Chester Nimitz, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet at the time.
Nimitz said, “This marks the first time in this conflict that such high tribute has been made in the Pacific Fleet to a member of his race and I’m sure the future will see others similarly honored for brave acts.”
Born in Waco, Texas, on Oct. 12, 1919, Miller was a high school football standout who worked on his father’s farm before enlisting in the U.S Navy as a mess attendant in 1939. Later transferred to USS West Virginia, Miller gained notoriety for his athletic prowess when he became the ship’s heavyweight boxing champion.
In 1943, Miller was the crew of about 900 aboard USS Liscome Bay when the ship was hit by a torpedo from a Japanese submarine and sank off Butaritari Atoll in the Gilbert Islands in the Pacific Ocean.
Listed as missing following the loss of the escort carrier, he was officially presumed dead Nov. 25, 1944, a year and a day after the loss of Liscome Bay. He was 24 years old.
“Doris Miller stood for everything that is good about our nation, and his story deserves to be remembered and repeated wherever our people continue the watch today,” Modly said.
In 1973, the Navy commissioned USS Miller, a Knox-class destroyer escort named for Miller. It was decommissioned in 1991.
The Navy says the future USS Doris Miller and other Ford-class carriers will be the premier forward asset for crisis response and humanitarian relief, and early decisive striking power in major combat operations throughout its 50-year service life.
The USS Doris Miller will be the fourth carrier in the Gerald R. Ford class of carriers and is slated for commission in 2030.