The naming of a new aircraft carrier was announced today at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. To the casual observer, you might think Martin Luther King Day would not be the best day to name a $15 billion war machine.
However, this naming was timed perfectly. For the first time, a carrier is being named for an African-American who served in the Navy. By 2028, the most advanced aircraft carrier in the world will be named the USS Doris Miller.
Doris Miller is a war hero from World War II, whose story has long been under-recognized as a pivotal moment in race relations in the United States.
Read my three observations about Doris Miller below the following timeline of his life, death, and recognition.
Timeline of Doris Miller’s Life, Death, and Recognition
Before moving to Waco in 2017, I had virtually no knowledge of Doris Miller. Despite his story being highlighted in two motion pictures (Tora! Tora! Tora! – 1970 and Pearl Harbor – 2001), I had not yet heard the story of the brave Doris Miller, who was born not too far from my office in Waco, Texas.
Today, I read a variety of accounts from the past 80 years of records about Doris Miller to help me understand the significance of the naming of an aircraft carrier for him. This includes 1940s newspaper articles, Congressional records, and even reviewing the first-hand accounts of officers on board the USS West Virginia on December 7, 1941.
I have noted three observations from my reading that I think are worth sharing with you.
First Observation: “An un-named Negro“
On January 1, 1942, only a couple of weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, a commendation list was produced by the United States Navy. On it were a list of heroic actions taken by various people. The actions were noted by people’s names and ranks.
Lastly, almost as an after-thought, there is a commendation for “an un-named Negro”.
A man, who is credited by first-hand accounts with saving many sailors, providing service to his wounded Captain, and manning a machine gun for which he was not trained at great peril to himself, is noted as “an un-named Negro”.
Many newspapers quoted the Navy’s commendation list without a second thought.
Only one, the Pittsburgh Courier, worked to find out this hero’s name.
Second Observation: Back to Work
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Doris went back to battle on the USS Liscome Bay and was ultimately killed in an attack by Japanese submarines in 1943. He wasn’t necessarily offered to come back home and do a war hero tour like some of his counter-parts. He didn’t get to go to Officer’s School. No, he picked up his pack and went back to serving at sea.
Third Observation: Persistence Pays Off
Multiple attempts, including in 1942 and as recently as 2017, to award Doris Miller with a Medal of Honor have been unsuccessful. Without much documented explanation, Doris Miller has not received a Medal of Honor.
Countless buildings, schools, and landmarks have been named for him, yet the Medal of Honor escapes his legacy. But today, after decades of people telling his story, the United States Navy has found something big enough, strong enough to carry the legacy of Doris Miller.
When launched in 2028, the USS Doris Miller will be the most advanced aircraft carrier in the world. Weighing in at 100,000 tons, the carrier will hold more than 80 aircraft and be a symbol of freedom and strength around the globe.
Typically, aircraft carriers are named for Presidents. In fact, 10 of the last 14 have been named for Presidents, two have been named for Senators, one was named the Enterprise.
The 14th, and most recent, aircraft carrier is being named for an African-American cook.
A cook that stepped up when the moment required it of him and who gave all of America a reason to be proud.
For more on Doris Miller, watch the video below.
Check out the interactive timeline above showing the life of Doris Miller, the events surrounding his death in 1943, and the continual requests for appropriate recognition for this hero. Also included the timeline are: historical photographs of Doris pictures of the ships he served on, and a picture of the $2.8 million Doris Miller Memorial in Waco, Texas.