When trouble erupts that threatens U.S. interests, the dispatch of an American aircraft carrier can serve to project a daunting image of power. Because of their strength and importance to the fleet, these mighty vessels normally are named only after U.S. presidents.
So, we were delighted with the Navy’s announcement on Martin Luther King Jr. Day that it will name a $12.5 billion aircraft carrier after an African American Pearl Harbor hero, Mess Attendant Second Class Doris Miller. The Texas native was the first black man to receive the Navy Cross for his brave actions during the Sunday bombing raid.
Miller was born in Waco on Oct. 12, 1919, the son of sharecroppers. In high school, he was a star fullback. Miller enlisted in the Navy in 1939. He was attached to the USS West Virginia, where he was gathering laundry just before 8 a.m. on Dec. 7, 1941, when Japanese warplanes began their attack. Miller ran to the main deck where the strong young sailor carried to safety injured men and the mortally wounded ship’s captain. He then ran to an unattended .50-caliber anti-aircraft machine gun and bravely commenced firing at the attacking planes until he was forced to abandon ship. It was the first time he had ever fired the gun—black sailors were not trained to handle weapons at the time. That didn’t stop him from doing what needed to be done.
As a result of his bravery, Adm. Chester Nimitz, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, presented Miller with the Navy Cross on May 27, 1942. Miller’s Navy Cross citation reads: “For distinguished devotion to duty, extraordinary courage and disregard for his own personal safety during the attack on the fleet in Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, by Japanese forces on December 7, 1941.”
On Monday, Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas B. Modly said that by naming the new carrier after Miller, “we honor the contributions of all our enlisted ranks, past and present, men and women, of every race, religion and background. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. observed, ‘Everybody can be great—because anybody can serve.’
“Doris Miller stood for everything that is good about our nation,” said Modly, “and his story deserves to be remembered and repeated wherever our people continue the watch today.”
We couldn’t agree more. The tribute is long overdue.