Doris Miller, WWII hero, becomes first black man to be named after U.S. aircraft carrier

Theodora Aidoo Jan 20, 2020 at 04:30pm

January 20, 2020 at 04:30 pm | History

Theodora Aidoo

Theodora Aidoo | Staff Writer

January 20, 2020 at 04:30 pm | History

Photo taken May 27, 1942, Mess Attendant 2nd Class Doris Miller stands at attention after being awarded the Navy Cross for for his actions aboard the USS West Virginia during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 - Pic Credit: US Navy

For the first time in history, the U.S. Navy said it will name its new aircraft carrier after a black sailor, Doris Miller who fought in World War II.

This comes more than 78 years after the events that made his name. Miller, often called “Dorie” earned the Navy Cross for his actions during the Japanese attack on Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Miller became an icon for black Americans in the conflict at the time when the US military was strictly segregated on racial grounds.

Born in Texas in 1919 to Henrietta and Conery Miller and the third of four sons, Miller had his first name Doris because his mother had thought she was having a girl.

Unable to find work after dropping out of school, Miller joined the Navy in 1939 when he was 20 years old.

Miller was made a mess attendant – someone who took care of the white officers after training. In 1940 he was assigned to the battleship West Virginia.

Doris Miller in uniform
Pic Credit: Getty Images

One morning while sorting laundry on the ship, a Japanese torpedo slammed into the vessel. It was the first of nine torpedoes which would hit and sink the West Virginia on 7 December 1941. The Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor killed more than 2,300 people and brought the US into World War II.

He was assigned to carry wounded fellow Sailors to places of greater safety because of his physical prowess. An officer ordered him to the bridge to aid the mortally wounded Captain of the ship.

He subsequently manned a 50 caliber Browning anti-aircraft machine gun until he ran out of ammunition and was ordered to abandon ship. “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,” Miller said according to the Naval History.

Miller got commended by the Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox on 1 April 1942. Later, a senator and a congressman launched separate bills in both houses of Congress calling for Miller to receive the Medal of Honor – the highest military honour in the US.

While African American rights groups also canvassed for Miller to get an award for his actions, others were against recognition for Miller because of his race.

Notwithstanding the controversy over his recognition, in May 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt awarded him the Navy Cross which was at the time the third-highest honour awarded by the US Navy.

Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, pins the Navy Cross on Miller at a ceremony on board a U.S. Navy warship in Pearl Harbor on May 27, 1942 – Pic Credit: Library of Congress

Miller went on a speaking tour nationwide and later returned to sea aboard the aircraft carrier Liscombe Bay. He was killed in the Battle of Makin in November 1943 when the ship was sunk by a Japanese submarine.

Miller was entitled to the Purple Heart Medal; the American Defense Service Medal, Fleet Clasp; the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal; and the World War II Victory Medal.

A Knox-class frigate, USS Miller (FF-1091) was commissioned on 30 June 1973 and named in honor of Doris Miller.

On 11 October 1991, a bronze commemorative plaque of Miller was dedicated by Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority at the Miller Family Park located on the U.S. Naval Base, Pearl Harbor.

Miller’s image was used in a 1943 U.S. Navy recruitment poster – Pic Credit: David Stone Martin/ Library of Congress

Miller remains one of the first African American heroes of World War II. In 2001, a “Pearl Harbor”, a film which illustrated Miller’s life was released. Waco also unveiled a statue of Miller in 2017.

And now a new aircraft carrier will be built and launched in 2028 bearing Miller’s name.

Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas B. Modly said naming the aircraft carrier after miller means that “we honour the contributions of all our enlisted ranks, past and present, men and women, of every race, religion and background.”

“Doris Miller stood for everything that is good about our nation,” said Modly, adding, “and his story deserves to be remembered and repeated wherever our people continue the watch today.”

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