The large shipyard at Newport News, Virginia, is presently engaged in the building of the US Navy’s newest Ford-class nuclear aircraft carrier. But more significantly, this new carrier will bear the name of a WWII Pearl Harbor hero, Mess Attendant 1st Class Doris Miller.
I have written about Doris (“Dorie”) Miller before, concerning his Navy Cross. He was the first African-American to receive that second-highest medal for uncommon courage in battle, and his story is an important one on many levels.
Miller was serving as a cook (one of the only ratings open to African-Americans at the time) on the battleship USS Virginia when the Japanese launched their surprise attack on the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. He had just finished serving breakfast that early Sunday morning when he heard the message over the ship’s intercom, “All hands, general quarters. Man your battle stations.”
Miller’s battle station was on the bridge. He was there when the ship’s Captain was wounded and helped to get the mortally wounded Captain to a safer position. He then manned a .50-caliber machine gun, which he had never been trained on or had ever handled before, and began letting loose with it on the attacking Japanese planes. He kept that up until he ran out of ammunition. He then took up fighting some of the fires on board the Virginia.
Miller was credited with helping to rescue several crewmen who were in the water around the ship. He was also credited with saving many lives that day before being ordered to abandon ship. He was one of the last three crewmen to leave the USS Virginia that day. The following is from his Navy Cross citation:
“For distinguished devotion to duty, extraordinary courage, and disregard to his own 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 the enemy Japanese attacking aircraft until ordered to leave the bridge.”
For his actions that day, Miller was promoted to Mess Attendant 1st class and awarded the Navy Cross by Admiral Chester Nimitz on June 1, 1942. Unfortunately, Miller would be killed in action serving aboard the escort carrier USS Liscome Bay when it was struck by a torpedo from a Japanese submarine during the battle for the Gilbert Islands off of Makin Atoll 17 months later.
In a ceremony held at Pearl Harbor recently, with the USS Arizona Memorial as a backdrop, the current Navy Secretary, Thomas Modly, announced that the new Ford-class carrier presently under construction at Newport News, Virginia, would be named after MA 1st Class Doris Miller. He said of Miller, “He died as he lived, an American sailor defending his nation, shoulder to shoulder with his shipmates, until the end. 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.”
The USS Doris Miller will be the second ship to bear the name of Doris Miller. The first was a destroyer escort that was reclassified as a frigate two years after it was commissioned. The new Ford-class carrier, to be named the USS Doris Miller, is designed to serve the fleet and the nation well into the 21st century. It will carry up to 100,000 officers and crew over that time and will be the most powerful and lethal warship ever built. It is significant, too, that this new carrier that will bear Miller’s name is being built in the state for which the battleship on which Miller served with such heroic distinction at Pearl Harbor was named: the USS Virginia.
We honor Mess Attendant 1st Class Doris Miller‘s memory. We are humbled by his selfless and courageous defense of his ship and his fellow shipmates at Pearl Harbor. We are proud to remember his name and his story here, precisely because he models “everything that is good [and noble] about our nation.” We wish the USS Doris Miller and the crews who will serve on her, “Fair Winds and Following Seas.”