The U.S. Navy named an aircraft carrier in honor of an African American for the first time on Monday during a Martin Luther King Jr. Day ceremony.
Navy Acting Secretary Thomas B. Modly said the USS Doris Miller will serve as a reminder of the nation’s ongoing pursuit for justice and as a tribute to its namesake. Miller, the first African American to receive the Navy Cross for his courage during the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, helped evacuate the West Virginia battleship before it sank and fired a machine gun at Japanese Imperialists until he ran out of ammunition.
“Doris Miller was the son of a sharecropper and a descendant of slaves,” Modly said at the ceremony at Pearl Harbor. “He was not given the same opportunities that men of a different color were given to serve this country. But on Dec. 7, 1941, he would not be defined by the prejudice of other people.”
Miller served as a ship’s cook at the time, Modly said, and showed initiative, professionalism and commitment during the attack. He died two years later aboard the USS Liscome Bay, when the ship was hit by a torpedo and sank off Butaritari Atoll, according to the Navy.
The future Gerald R. Ford-class carrier named after him will be deployed in major combat operations, crisis response and humanitarian relief, the Navy said in a statement. One other ship bears Miller’s name: the USS Miller (FF-1091), a Knox-class frigate.
Along with the Navy Cross, Miller has been awarded the Purple Heart Medal; the American Defense Service Medal, Fleet Clasp; the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal; and the World War II Victory Medal.
“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,” Modly said in a statement. “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.”
Photo: Michael Chow/The Republic