Waco: Carrier named in honor of hometown hero of Pearl Harbor attack

Adm. Chester Nimitz presented the Navy Cross to Doris Miller on May 27, 1942. (U.S. Navy photo/file)
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) “This marks the first time in this conflict that such high tribute has been made in the Pacific Fleet to a member of his race, and I’m sure that the future will see others similarly honored for brave acts.” — Admiral Chester Nimitz in remarks during the presentation of the Navy Cross to Doris Miller on May 27, 1942

The U.S. Navy Monday named an aircraft carrier in honor of Doris Miller, a hometown hero of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor nearly 80 years ago, the first carrier ever named for an African American and the first ever named in honor of a sailor for actions while serving in the enlisted ranks.

U.S. Rep. Bill Flores, R-Waco and U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, a Waco native, were among those on hand for the ceremony Monday at Pearl Harbor.

"This is a meaningful recognition for a native son of Central Texas,” Flores said in prepared remarks.

“Today, I join all Central Texans to celebrate and promote Petty Officer Doris Miller’s legacy of service and sacrifice as a national hero, motivating current and future generations of American sailors as they selflessly serve to defend our liberty and freedom.”

The Navy announced on Jan. 31, 2019, that it had awarded a contract for construction of two carriers, CVN 80 and CVN 81, which will be named in honor of Miller, to Huntington Ingalls Industries-Newport News Shipbuilding.

The ships are the third and fourth carriers of the nuclear-powered Ford-Class.

"The future USS Doris Miller and other Ford-class carriers will be the premier forward asset for crisis response and humanitarian relief, and early decisive striking power in a major combat operations," the Navy said in a press release.

"The aircraft carrier and the carrier strike group will provide forward presence, rapid response, endurance on station, and multi-mission capability throughout its 50-year service life."

The shipyard expects to deliver the carrier that will bear Miller's name by 2032.

The first African American for whom the Navy named a ship was Texan Leonard Harmon, who was born in Cuero and served as a mess mate on the USS San Francisco.

He was killed in action on November 13, 1942 during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal and was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for heroism in the action.

The USS Harmon was commission in August 1943.

The 1,400-ton Buckley class destroyer escort was part of the landings in January 1945 in Leyte and in March operated off Iwo Jima.

The Harmon remained inactive until she was sold for scrapping in January 1967.

“A true American hero and icon”

Navy Mess Mate Doris Miller of Waco was below decks when the first Japanese torpedo struck the USS West Virginia on Dec. 7, 1941.

He helped carry the ship’s fatally wounded captain to safety and then loaded and fired an anti-aircraft machine gun he had never been trained to operate, downing as many as five enemy planes, according to some reports, although Miller himself later told officials he thought he hit just one.

Miller was awarded the Navy Cross for his gallantry, although some supporters have continued to work to try to convince the Navy to award Miller the Congressional Medal of Honor.

“Naming CVN 81 for Dorie Miller casts long overdue recognition to a true American hero and icon. It also honors the contributions of African Americans and enlisted sailors for the first time in the history of American aircraft carriers,” Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Russell Smith said.

“The sailors who will put the USS Doris Miller to sea will be the fortunate ones, as heirs to the mightiest of Navy legends who epitomized the kind of fighting sailor we need today,” he said.

Miller, the son of sharecroppers, was born on Oct. 12, 1919.

He was a 1939 graduate of A.J. Moore High School in Waco where he was a fullback on the football team.

After graduation he worked on his father’s farm until September 1939 before enlisting in the U.S. Navy as a mess attendant.

Miller was promoted to the rank of petty officer in June 1943, almost six months before his death at age 24 when his ship, the USS Liscome Bay, was struck early in the morning of Nov. 24, 1943 by a single torpedo from a Japanese submarine.

The torpedo detonated the ship’s bomb magazine and the Liscome Bay sank within minutes.

In addition to the Navy Cross, Miller was entitled to the Purple Heart Medal; the American Defense Service Medal, Fleet Clasp; the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal; and the World War II Victory Medal.

On June 30, 1973, a Knox-class frigate, the USS Miller, was commissioned.

The Miller was decommissioned 28 years later in 1991.

On Oct. 11, 1992 the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority dedicated a bronze commemorative plaque of Miller at the Miller Family Park on the U.S. Naval Base, Pearl Harbor.

In February 2015 Waco's Veteran's Affairs Medical Center was renamed for Miller.