Doris Miller was in the right place at the wrong time, I suppose one could say.
On Dec. 7, 1941, Miller was working in the laundry room on the USS West Virginia, a battleship that was moored at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Then all hell broke loose.
Japanese warplanes swooped in over the harbor and hit the West Virginia, along with many other ships and planes. Miller jumped into action. He tended to his mortally wounded ship captain, helped other wounded sailors. Then he strapped himself into a deck gun — a weapon on which he was not qualified — and began firing at enemy aircraft.
He survived that terrifying event. He received a medal from Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz. Miller would die in action in 1943.
But here we are today. The U.S. Navy has announced that it will name a future Gerald R. Ford class nuclear aircraft carrier in honor of Doris Miller.
Yes, the USS Doris Miller will carry the name of the first African-American so honored. It will carry honor a young man who was thrust into a hero’s role in a time of immense national peril and tragedy.
Doris Miller was a native of Waco. I am pleased to see the picture above of Miller receiving a medal from another native Texan: Nimitz hailed from Fredericksburg. Miller was awarded the Navy Cross, the Purple Heart and received a commendation from the Navy secretary at the time for the actions he took on that “date which will live in infamy.”
The Navy Department chose to make the announcement today to coincide with the nation’s celebration of Martin Luther King Day, a holiday set aside to honor the memory and the work of our great nation’s greatest civil rights champion.
“Doris Miller stood for everything that is good about our nation, and his story deserves to be remembered and repeated wherever our people continue the watch today,” acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said in a statement.
May they “continue the watch” with the pride and courage exhibited by the young man under whose name they will set sail.