Military Distinctions For A WW II Navy Hero

December 7, 1941, the day that Japanese naval aircraft attacked our base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, triggering our entry into WW II.  Mess Attendant 2nd Class Doris (male) Miller, a Black American, was engrossed in his below deck duties on the USS West Virginia when the attack began.  Twenty-two-year-old Miller then raced immediately to his assigned battle station, only to find it had already been destroyed by an enemy torpedo. So instead, he quickly headed up to the battleship’s deck and bravely began carrying wounded shipmates out of harm’s way, as much as that was possible in the carnage of death raining down from the air.  Before long, he was told to go to the ship’s bridge to try to assist in the treatment of the West Virginia’s captain, who was severely wounded early in the surprise attack. Sadly, the captain would die from his wounds.

After trying to help with aid to his captain, he returned to man an anti-aircraft machine gun, firing it at the oncoming enemy aircraft until it ran out of ammunition.  This in the midst of the deadly chaos all around him, and the fact that he’d never been trained to fire a machine gun, or any gun, for that matter!

The Pearl Harbor attack’s catastrophic toll on our Navy:  2,300 American military personnel killed, 19 of our ships destroyed or damaged, to include 8 U.S. battleships.  Among them, of course, was the USS West Virginia, upon which courageous Mess Attendant Doris Miller was proudly serving.  Fortunately, Miller survived the air-borne onslaught, despite repeatedly being exposed to enemy fire while on the ship’s deck.

His heroics did not go unnoticed. In May of 1942, appropriately there at Pearl Harbor, Admiral Chester Nimitz, Commander of the Pacific Fleet, awarded Doris Miller the Navy Cross for valor in combat, the first Black American to receive that high honor.  Regrettably, after surviving that savage Japanese attack, he would not survive the war.  He perished in 1943, when the ship he was then on, was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine.

But yet another high honor, for his family, and in his memory, now awaits.  Expected to be formally announced at Pearl Harbor on Martin Luther King, Jr. Observance Day, the Navy’s newest Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier will be named the USS Doris Miller.  This ultra-modern ship is due to be completed and launched in 2027.  Quite a unique distinction since, any more, most recent U.S. carriers have been named after U.S. Presidents.  The one exception being “Enterprise,” an historic Navy ship name, which is destined to adorn yet another Navy ship, its ninth, in the future.

The USS Doris Miller, the Navy’s next “supercarrier.”  A lasting legacy for a courageous young sailor, who broke through existing barriers to become a legendary hero in defense of his ship, his shipmates, and his country.

(Background information via, AP / Rachel Sharp, 1-18-2020)