Jan. 18 (UPI) — The Navy has confirmed that it will name the fourth Ford-class aircraft carrier in honor of Doris Miller, the first black man to receive a Navy Cross for his actions during the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack.
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser broke the news Friday that the branch was expected to announce the vessel’s name at a Monday ceremony in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and U.S. Naval Institute News confirmed the announcement Saturday morning.
On the morning of the Pearl Harbor attack Miller, a third-class mess attendant, was collecting laundry when an alarm sounded, so he manned a machine gun on the USS West Virginia to fire at attacking Japanese planes.
“It wasn’t hard. I just pulled the trigger and she worked fine,” Miller recalled after the battle.
After that he assisted the battleships’ commander and several others in evacuating the ship before it sank.
In 1942 Fleet Adm. Chester Nimitz awarded Miller with the Navy Cross on the deck of the USS Enterprise. He continued to serve until 1943 when he was killed by a Japanese torpedo attack on escort carrier USS Liscome Bay.
At the time, African-Americans were not allowed to man guns in the U.S. Navy and as far as rank was concerned, Miller “could not really get above a messman level,” according to Doreen Ravenscroft, president of Cultural Arts of Waco (Texas) and team leader for the Doris Miller Memorial.
“Without him really knowing, he actually was a part of the civil rights movement because he changed the thinking in the Navy,” Ravenscroft said.
The retired Knox-class destroyer USS Miller was also named in honor of Miller.
Acting Navy Secretary Thomas B. Modly is expected to attend the Monday ceremony at Pearl Harbor to announce the carrier’s name, as are two of Miller’s nieces.