For the first time, Navy to name supercarrier after Black American

USS Doris Miller christened for brave sailor who saved lives during 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor

Credit: U.S. Navy photos courtesy of the National Archives

Credit: U.S. Navy photos courtesy of the National Archives

For the first time in its 244-year history, the U.S. Navy plans to name an aircraft carrier after a Black American — a serviceman who became one of the early heroes of World War II.

The USS Doris Miller, a supercarrier currently in planning, is being christened in honor of the enlisted sailor who jumped into action aboard the USS West Virginia during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, according to a report by NPR.

Miller, the 22-year-old son of a sharecropper from Waco, Texas, helped shelter his wounded captain as bombs rained down on the ship. Then, despite no training, he manned a machine gun and shot at enemy planes until the ammunition ran out, according to historical accounts.

Miller didn’t stop there — he rescued multiple men from the ship as it sank and continued to pull injured sailors out of water of the harbor afterward.

Initially the military did not give Miller full recognition for his brave actions, but after consistent pressure by the Black press, Miller was awarded the distinguished Navy Cross in 1942.

Now 78 years later ,his name will be enshrined alongside U.S. presidents, whom most supercarriers are named after.

What’s most notable about Miller’s bravery that day is that Black sailors in those times were prohibited from firing weapons.

Credit: U.S. Navy photos courtesy of the National Archives

Credit: U.S. Navy photos courtesy of the National Archives

“One of the ways in which the Navy discriminated against African Americans was that they limited them to certain types of jobs, or what we call ‘ratings’ in the Navy,” said Regina Akers, a historian with the Naval History and Heritage Command, according to NPR. “So, for African Americans, many were messmen or stewards. Dorie Miller was a messman, which meant that he basically took care of an officer, laid out his clothes, shined his shoes and served meals.”

Miller’s actions led to policy changes that helped break racial barriers for specific military duties, allowing Black enlisted soldiers to serve in jobs that had been typically reserved for their white counterparts.

President Harry S Truman desegregated the military in 1948.

Thomas Modly, the former acting secretary of the Navy, made the decision to name the new ship for Miller earlier this year after consulting with a small group of retired Black admirals, NPR reported.

Modly said he urged them to nominate an enlisted Black sailor “and literally, they came back to me within five days and said it has to be Doris Miller. And the story of Doris Miller is an incredible one, so they didn’t need to convince me.”

Modly said naming a U.S. warship after a Black American was “long overdue” and that Miller was an ideal choice “because that was a point at which the country was really united,” he said. “And African Americans who served were still in a lot of places growing up under Jim Crow. And so it required a lot of bravery and patriotism.”

Miller deployed to the Pacific again in 1943, but he was killed with hundreds of other sailors when the ship was hit by a torpedo and sank.

His body was never found.

Today, Miller’s name graces schools, roads and community centers around the country.