The United States Navy named an aircraft carrier after a decorated Black war hero for the first time in the Navy’s 244-year history.
During a Martin Luther King, Jr. event, Navy Acting Secretary Thomas B. Modly said the carrier would bear the name USS Doris Miller, after the first Black American to earn the Navy Cross for exemplifying courage during the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack. Miller, who worked as a cook on a ship, helped clear service members from the West Virginia battleship before it sank and he is credited with emptying a machine gun at Japanese enemy forces, according to USA Today.
“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 released to USA Today. “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.”
In addition to the Navy Cross, Miller also earned other esteemed awards for his bravery, including the Purple Heart Medal, the American Defense Service Medal, Fleet Clasp, the World War II Victory Medal and the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal. The Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier to bear Miller’s name will be sent into major combat operations and to respond to crises and provide humanitarian relief, according to a Navy statement.
Modly said he wants people to be reminded of Miller’s courage and the United States’ persistent pursuit of justice whenever they see the USS Doris Miller.
“Doris Miller was the son of a sharecropper and a descendant of slaves,” Modly said at the Pearl Harbor ceremony, according to USA Today. “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.”
Despite the unrelenting attack Pearl Harbor attack, Miller never lost his cool and instead stepped up as a leader, showing initiative and resolve. He died two years later near the Butaritari Atoll while onboard the USS Liscome Bay, after the ship was hit by a torpedo and sank, according to the Navy.
The Navy has another ship, a Knox-class frigate, that also bears Miller’s name, called the USS Miller (FF-1091).