Navy Names Aircraft Carrier After Pearl Harbor Hero Doris Miller

Navy Names Aircraft Carrier After Pearl Harbor Hero Doris Miller

The Navy is announcing that a $12.5 billion aircraft carrier will be named after Doris Miller, who was hailed a hero after the events of Pearl Harbor. Known as Mess Attendant 2nd Class Doris Miller, he was the first African American to receive the Navy Cross for his actions on December 7th, 1941. On that day, he manned a gun machine on the USS West Virginia to fire back at the attacking Japanese planes.

Doreen Ravenscroft is the president of Cultural Arts of Waco (Texas) and team leader for the Doris Miller Memorial. She speaks about Miller’s actions on that day and the naming of this aircraft. “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.”


Doris Miller goes beyond his expectations and restrictions

Navy aircraft to be named after Pearl Harbor hero Doris Miller
Doris Miller / Courtesy of the U.S. Navy

Miller was born in 1919 in Texas and was the third of four sons. He was named Doris because his mother originally thought she was having a girl. He often went by the nickname ‘Dorie’ as well. As Miller grew older, the Jim Crow laws would make it difficult for him to find work, so at age 20, he joined the U.S. Navy in 1939.

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“Navy policy at that time limited blacks to those duties that were manual, that they thought didn’t require a whole lot of intellect,” says historian Regina Akers. Shortly after training, Miller was made a Mess Attendant, which was someone who took care of the white officers. By 1940, he was assigned to battleship West Virginia.

Regardless of restrictions, he proves to be a hero

navy aircraft to be named after doris miller pearl harbor hero
Doris Miller / Courtesy of U.S. Navy

At the time of the attack, Miller was just sorting laundry when a Japanese torpedo impaled the vessel. This was the first of nine torpedos which would sink the West Virginia and kill more than 2,300 people. This soon brought the U.S. into World War II. Miller took the initiative to move his wounded captain to shelter before going to man the anti-aircraft gun. This was strictly against regulations for a black sailor to do. He then began firing back at the Japanese aircraft overhead.

“It wasn’t hard. I just pulled the trigger and she worked fine,” Miller said, according to the Naval History and Heritage Command website. “I think I got one of those [Japanese] planes. They were diving pretty close to us.” He continued to fire until he ran out of ammo and then went back to help his wounded fellow sailors. Miller and the rest of the survivors abandoned ship as the West Virginia sank.

Further recognition and a legacy

navy aircraft to be named after doris miller pearl harbor hero
Plaque for Doris Miller / Star Advertiser

For a while, Miller and his heroic actions remained unknown. In January 1942, the U.S. Navy announced a list of commendations for servicemen on Pearl Harbor. Included in this list was an ‘unnamed black man.’ Just two months later, the Pittsburgh Courier would reveal this unnamed man to be Doris Miller. Soon after, a senator and congressman would launch separate bills calling for Miller to receive the Medal of Honor. At the time, many others were arguing against the recognition of Miller’s actions due to his race.

Regardless of the controversy, President Franklin Roosevelt would award Miller the Navy Cross. At the time, this was the third highest honor of the U.S. Navy. Miller would soon return to sea on the aircraft carrier Liscombe Bay. He was sadly killed when the ship was sunk by a Japanese submarine in the Battle of Makin in November 1943. His legacy continues as a great hero of Pearl Harbor. Actor Cuba Gooding Jr even played the role of him in a 2001 film called Pearl Harbor. Historian Akers continues to say, “It is tremendous, that heroism is in no way limited by race, by gender, by background, by rank or rating.”

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