Navy to name aircraft carrier after black Pearl Harbor hero Doris Miller on MLK Day

Doris Miller was a pioneer and a hero at Pearl Harbor, and the U.S. Navy is expected to honor him Monday in Hawaii.

The Navy is expected to name a $12.5 billion aircraft carrier after Miller, the first African American to receive the Navy Cross for valor. Miller, 22, a mess attendant 2nd Class when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, manned a machine gun on the USS West Virginia to return fire at the attacking planes, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.

Miller was born Oct. 12, 1919, in Waco, Texas, and excelled as a high school football player, according to the Doris Miller Memorial in Waco. He enlisted in the Navy in 1939 and was assigned to the West Virginia, where he cooked, swabbed the decks and shined officers’ shoes, according to The New York Times.

At the time of Miller’s enlistment, black sailors were not allowed to serve in combat positions.

That changed when Japanese planes began strafing the battleships moored at Pearl Harbor just before 8 a.m. on Dec. 7, 1941.

With no prior training, Miller operated “a .50-caliber Browning antiaircraft machine gun until he ran out of ammunition and was ordered to abandon ship,” according to the Navy.

“It wasn’t hard,” Miller said, according to the Naval History and Heritage Command website. “I just pulled the trigger and she worked fine. I had watched the others with these guns. I guess I fired her for about 15 minutes.”

There were 1,541 men on board the West Virginia, and 130 died, the Times reported. An additional 52 were injured.

Of the 1,541 men aboard the ship at the time, 130 were killed and 52 were wounded.

Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, commander in chief of the Pacific Fleet, presented the Navy Cross to Miller on board the USS Enterprise in Pearl Harbor on May 27, 1942, the Star-Advertiser reported.

After Pearl Harbor, Miller served on the USS Indianapolis, the newspaper reported. On Nov. 24, 1943, he was killed during the Battle of Makin when a Japanese torpedo sank the Liscome Bay, which was escorting the Indianapolis, the Times reported. He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, according to the Navy.

"I think that Doris Miller is an American hero simply because of what he represents as a young man going beyond the call of what’s expected,” Doreen Ravenscroft, president of Cultural Arts and team leader for the Doris Miller Memorial, told the Star-Advertiser.

Two of Miller’s nieces are expected to be at Pearl Harbor for the announcement, including 66-year-old Flosetta Miller, Stars & Stripes reported.