Last month the US Navy announced a break with tradition by naming of its next aircraft carrier after an African American enlisted man who became a hero during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. The following appeared in the Navy Times Magazine.
“During an emotional Monday ceremony in Pearl Harbor, Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly honored the legacy of World War II hero Doris Miller by bestowing his name on a future aircraft carrier.
It marks the first time a flattop has paid homage to an African American, a Navy Cross recipient and an enlisted service member. And it was decreed on a day set aside to remember the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and his lifelong crusade to end racial discrimination across the United States.
With the USS Arizona Memorial his backdrop, Modly sketched how Miller rose to battle on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, a mess attendant in a racially segregated rating that made African American men servants to white officers.
Instead of collecting the morning’s laundry, Miller carried wounded shipmates from the blazing battleship West Virginia after it was hit by enemy fire. He fought the flames as they erupted on the vessel and then manned a .50 caliber machine gun — a weapon he never operated previously — to swat away Japanese planes during the ongoing surprise attack that launched the United States into World War II.
His ammo spent and ordered to abandon ship, he was one of the last three sailors to escape West Virginia.
Advanced to mess attendant first class on June 1, 1942, and awarded the Navy Cross for combat valor, Miller was killed 17 months later when a Japanese submarine sank the escort carrier Liscome Bay off Makin Atoll during the invasion of the Gilbert Islands.
“He died as he lived, an American sailor defending his nation, shoulder to shoulder with his shipmates, until the end,” said Modly. “Dorie Miller stood for everything that is good about our nation. His story deserves to be remembered and repeated wherever our people continue to stand the watch today.
“He’s not just the story of one sailor. It is the story of our Navy, of our nation and our ongoing struggle to form — in the words of our Constitution — a more perfect union.”