History will be made when the aircraft carrier USS Doris Miller, sails for the first time. The USS Doris Miller is named after World War II mess attendant Doris “Dorie” Miller. The naming of the Ford-class carrier will be one of several firsts: It will not just be the first carrier named after an enlisted sailor, but more importantly, the Doris Miller will also be the first carrier named after a black sailor.

In April, acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly had asked a small group of retired black admirals to recommend him a name for the new supercarrier being built. He had asked them, if possible, to try to find an African American enlisted sailor, believing that the service was long overdue for such an honor. And they chose Miller.

Miller was born in Waco, Texas in October of 1919. He was named Doris because the midwife who assisted his mother had convinced her that the child would be female. He joined the Navy in 1939 and was assigned to USS West Virginia in January 1940.

Miller’s job was to take care of the ship’s officers. He would be tasked with laying out their clothes, shinning their shoes, and serving their meals. (The MOS mess attendant doesn’t even exist anymore.) It must be noted that during the days of the segregated military, black sailors weren’t allowed to serve in combat roles and weren’t even allowed to fire weapons. Although, black leaders were pressuring President Roosevelt to allow black troops to fight for their country like white troops.

Once onboard the West Virginia, the 6’3”, 210-pound Miller became interested in boxing. He eventually became the ship’s heavyweight boxing champion. 

On December 7, 1941, the day of the Japanese sneak attack that forced the U.S. into WWII, the USS was stationed at Pearl Harbor. When the Japanese attack occurred, Miller rushed to his battle station only to find it already destroyed by the Japanese. The West Virginia’s Communications Officer, Lieutenant Commander Doir C. Johnson, ordered him to accompany him to the bridge to assist in moving Captain Mervyn Bennion, who was grievously wounded by shrapnel in his midsection. Miller and another sailor tried to remove the captain from the bridge, however, the captain refused to leave his post, and continued to issue orders.

Two junior officers, Lieutenant Frederic H. White and Ensign Victor Delano ordered Miller to help load the unmanned number 1 and number 2 Browning .50 caliber anti-aircraft machine guns aft of the conning tower. They then gave Miller quick instructions on how to operate it. As Delano turned around, he was surprised to see that  Miller was already firing one of the guns. White, forgetting Navy protocol about black sailors not being allowed to fire weapons, then loaded ammunition into both guns and assigned Miller the starboard gun. 

Miller continued firing the .50 caliber machine gun until he ran out of ammunition. He then helped carry the captain up to the navigation bridge and out of the thick smoke enveloping the ship. Bennion died soon afterward from his wounds. Further Japanese aircraft hit the ship with two armor-piercing bombs and blasted the port side with five torpedos.