HONOLULU (CBSDFW.COM) — For the first time ever, the U.S. Navy is naming its newest aircraft carrier for an African American and for an enlisted sailor.
It will be called the USS Doris Miller.
Doris “Dorie” Miller, a son of sharecroppers and a grandson of slaves, became an American hero.
He was from Waco, but went to Dallas just before his 20th birthday to enlist in the Navy.
On December 7, 1941, when the USS Virginia came under attack in Pearl Harbor, he saved his fellow shipmates’ lives and took charge of a 50-caliber machine gun and started firing at attacking Japanese planes.
Back then, African Americans weren’t allowed to touch weapons such as machine guns.
The Navy was segregated, and Miller served as a messman, essentially a personal servant to white officers.
During the naming ceremony in Hawaii, near Pearl Harbor, where Miller’s actions inspired so many, Acting Secretary of the Navy, Thomas Modly said Miller stood for everything that was good about our nation. “Dorie Miller’s example, his leadership, and his courage under fire went onto inspire millions and increased pressure on the Navy to expand opportunities for African-Americans in every capacity.”
The ceremony took place on the same day as the nation paused to reflect on the life and message of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Modly said, “In a very real sense, those who witnessed Dr. King unabashedly state ‘I have a dream’ they all had Dorie Miller to thank.”
Miller’s three nieces from Texas, including Henrietta Bledsoe Miller, were at the event. “The Miller family is honored to be here.. at this historical event.”
In 1942, the Navy awarded Miller its second highest award, the Navy Cross.
Miller died two years after surviving the Pearl Harbor attack in November, 1943 during the invasion of the Gilbert Islands, when the USS Lipscome Bay was torpedoed and sank.
In 1973, the Navy commissioned the USS Miller, a frigate, in his honor.
In Waco, a memorial honoring Miller was dedicated on December 7, 2018.
Dallas Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, who is originally from Waco, spoke at Monday’s ceremony, and called Miller her childhood hero. “In the days of real segregation, a black man in my home town stepped up to help save America. I was proud. All of my life, I hae heard of how great Doris Miller was. I’m so grateful, this is an emotional moment for me.”
Congresswoman Johnson continues her mission to have the Navy award Miller its highest honor, the Medal of Honor.
She said her “journey is not quite over.”