U.S. Navy to Name Fourth Gerald R. Ford-Class Aircraft Carrier, CVN-81, As USS Doris Miller

The U.S. Navy will name the fourth Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier (CVN-81) as USS Doris Miller in honor of World War II hero Ship’s Cook Third Class Doris Miller, the service announced.

The announcement will be made by the Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas B. Modly at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day ceremony in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on Monday, Jan. 20.

Mess Attendant Second Class Doris Miller
Doris Miller, Mess Attendant Second Class, USN, (1919-1943) just after being presented with the Navy Cross by Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, onboard USS Enterprise (CV-6) at Pearl Harbor, 27 May 1942. Official U.S. Navy Photograph.

The aircraft carrier CVN-81 will be the second vessel named in honor of Doris Miller after USS Miller (DE-1091), a Knox-class destroyer escort which was later reclassified as a frigate and redesignated FF-1091. The future USS Doris Miller is also the first aircraft carrier ever named for an African American and the first aircraft carrier to be named in honor of a Sailor for actions while serving in the enlisted ranks.

“In selecting this name, we honor the contributions of all our enlisted ranks, past and present, men and women, of every race, religion and background,” said Modly. “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. observed, ‘Everybody can be great – because anybody can serve’. No one understands the importance and true meaning of service than those who have volunteered to put the needs of others above themselves.”

On Dec. 7, 1941, Miller was collecting laundry on the Colorado-class dreadnought battleship USS West Virginia (BB-48), when the attack from Japanese forces commenced. When the alarm for general quarters sounded he headed for his battle station, an anti-aircraft battery magazine, only to discover that torpedo damage had wrecked it. Miller was ordered to the ship’s bridge to aid the mortally wounded commanding officer, and subsequently manned a .50 caliber Browning anti-aircraft machine gun until he ran out of ammunition. Miller then helped move many other injured Sailors as the ship was ordered abandoned due to her own fires and flaming oil floating down from the destroyed Arizona (BB-33). West Virginia lost 150 of its 1,500 person crew.

Admiral Nimitz awards the Navy Cross to SC2c Doris Miller for heroism on USS West Virginia (BB-48). He was later killed. This ceremony and other awards and commendation letters were give by the admiral onboard USS Enterprise (CV-6) at Pearl Harbor, March, 1942.
Admiral Nimitz awards the Navy Cross to SC2c Doris Miller for heroism on USS West Virginia (BB-48).

Miller’s actions during the attack earned him a commendation from then Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox and the Navy Cross, which was presented to him personally by Adm. Chester Nimitz, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet at the time. Miller was the first African American to be awarded the Navy Cross, the third-highest honor awarded by the U.S. Navy at the time.

“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,” noted Acting Secretary Modly.

Doris Miller later served aboard Portland-class heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis (CA-35) from December 1941 to May 1943. He was then assigned to the Casablanca-class escort carrier USS Liscome Bay (CVE-56). Cook Third Class Miller was lost with that ship when she was torpedoed by the Imperial Japanese Navy Kaidai-type submarine I-175 on 24 November 1943, during the invasion of the Gilbert Islands (Battle of Makin).

Listed as missing following the loss of Liscome Bay, Miller was officially presumed dead on 25 November 1944, a year and a day after the loss of Liscome Bay. Only 272 Sailors survived the sinking of the escort carrier, while 646 died.

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.

The U.S. Navy has so far announced five new Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers – USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78), USS John F. Kennedy (CVN-79), USS Enterprise (CVN-80),  CVN-81 and yet-to-be-named carrier CVN 82. There are expected to be ten ships of this class in total.

The Gerald R. Ford-class (or Ford-class; previously known as CVN-21 class) aircraft carriers are being built to replace USS Enterprise (CVN-65) (USS Gerald R. Ford) and eventually the U.S. Navy’s existing Nimitz-class carriers (the remaining vessels of the class).

The new vessels have a hull similar to the Nimitz carriers, but introduce technologies since developed such as the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS), Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG), as well as other design features intended to improve efficiency and capability, and reduce operating costs, including sailing with smaller crews.

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