On January 20, Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas B. Modly officially named CVN 81 – USS Doris Miller, after the first African-American recipient of the Navy Cross. The naming was carried out at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day ceremony at Pearl Harbor. USS Doris Miller will be the fourth Ford-class aircraft carrier to be built.
The then Mess Attendant Second Class was awarded the Navy Cross for valor for his heroic actions aboard the USS West Virginia during the Pearl Harbor attack. When the general quarters alarm was sounded that morning, Miller headed to his battle station, the antiaircraft battery magazine amidship, only to discover that it had been flooded by torpedo damage. He subsequently headed on deck, and was assigned to carry wounded sailors to safety due to his strong build. Miller was then ordered to the ship’s bridge to aid the mortally wounded commanding officer, Captain Mervyn S. Bennion. After that, he then operated a .50 caliber anti-aircraft machine gun on the bridge, firing at attacking aircraft until ammunition ran out and the order to abandon ship was given.
The US Navy was segregated at the time, with African-American sailors excluded from combat duty and limited to the mess branch, with work including swabbing decks, shining officers’ shoes and cooking. Miller’s heroism made him an icon to African-American sailors during the war. However, Congress and Senate bills to award him the Medal of Honor failed due to the House of Representatives’ Chairman of Naval Affairs at the time, Carl Vinson, sparking controversy.
Admiral Chester Nimitz personally awarded Miller the Navy Cross, doing so on the flight deck of the USS Enterprise on May 27, 1942. Miller would then be promoted to Mess Attendant First Class and then Cook Third Class, serving on the USS Indianapolis and the USS Liscombe Bay.
Miller was killed during the invasion of the Gilbert Islands, when the USS Liscombe Bay was torpedoed on 24 November, 1943. He was listed as missing following the sinking of the escort carrier, and was officially presumed dead on 25 November, 1944, along with 645 other sailors aboard. Only 272 sailors survived the sinking of the USS Liscombe Bay.
Acting Secretary Modly remarked during the naming:
Seventy-five years ago our nation bound together to secure victory against an existential threat, but also to secure opportunities for broader liberty and justice for the entire world.
But we were not perfect in our own pursuits of these values here at home. That contradiction is an undeniable part of our history, one that cannot be glossed over or forgotten.
CVN 81 will be the second ship to be named after Miller, with USS Miller, a Knox-class frigate being the first ship to bear his name. USS Doris Miller is also the first aircraft carrier to be named after an African-American sailor, as well as the first aircraft carrier to be named in honor of an enlisted sailor. USS Doris Miller is expected to be delivered in 2030, and will be the numerical replacement for USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70).