Although traditionally named after presidents, in a military first, a supercarrier that is currently on the drawing board will be named after an enlisted African American sailor and WWII hero, Doris “Dorie” Miller. The USS Doris Miller (CVN-81) will be a Gerald R Ford-class aircraft carrier and is to be commissioned in 2030. This is not the first ship named after Miller. Also after his namesake was the USS Miller (FF-1091), a Knox-class destroyer that was commissioned in 1973.
Miller was the son of a sharecropper from Waco, Texas. During the time that he served, the military was still segregated and Blacks could only serve in support roles. Miller was a Messman on the battleship USS West Virginia (BB-48). His job was to take care of an officer in a role similar to a butler. During the attack on Pearl Harbor, his ship was sinking, but instead of abandoning ship he sprung into action in a role for which he had not been trained. After moving his injured captain to safety, he manned a machine gun and fired upon the attacking Japanese planes. When his ammunition ran out, he began to pull his fellow injured soldiers out of the burning harbor. He was one of the last to leave his sinking ship.
Miller served during a time when the military was segregated. In the navy, this meant that not many Blacks served aboard ship, and those who did were relegated to positions of service such as Messmen or cooks. By taking up arms against the enemy, Miller also was taking up arms against this policy of segregation. It wasn’t until 1948 when President Harry S. Truman issued Execute Order 9981 that the military was officially desegregated. Although the navy seemed to take the lead in implementing the official desegregation policy, the reality of discrimination would exist for much longer. Thomas Fleming (The Navy Times) states that a 1949 congressional committee report showed that there were only 17,000 Blacks in the navy with only 19 Black officers, and 10,000 were in assignments that were racially segregated. Fleming also reports that he saw a landing-craft full of 50 Black sailors approach the USS Alabama to begin the desegregation process, but the captain, actually from Alabama, refused permission for the sailors to come aboard. Fleming describes seeing the departing Black sailors with bowed heads. These were sorrowful and difficult times for Black servicemen, who had to fight both the enemy and discrimination.
Historian Regina Akers, with the Naval History and Heritage Command, said of Miller, “Despite the fact that he was denied certain basic constitutional rights because of the racism in our society at the time, Dorie didn’t let that deter him, . . . it didn’t lessen his patriotism, his love for country, his determination to serve and to give the Navy his very best, and that says a lot. That says a lot.”
In 1942, Miller received the Navy Cross for his heroic actions. Sadly, in 1943 during the Battle of Makin, a Japanese submarine sunk his ship, the aircraft carrier USS Liscome Bay (CVE-56), and he perished.