WASHINGTON - Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas B. Modly named a future aircraft carrier USS Doris Miller (CVN 81) during a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day ceremony honoring African Americans of the Greatest Generation in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Jan. 20.
The backdrop for the day’s ceremony paid homage to the beginning and ending of America’s role in World War II and the scene where Doris Miller’s heroic actions cemented him into books of American history.
“It’s an honor to join you today on the birthday celebration of one of our nation’s, and the world’s, greatest spiritual, intellectual and moral leaders,” said Modly.
“Seventy-five years ago our nation bound together to secure victory against an existential threat, but also to secure opportunities for broader liberty and justice for the entire world.
But we were not perfect in our own pursuits of these values here at home,” Modly continued. “That contradiction is an undeniable part of our history, one that cannot be glossed over or forgotten.”
Secretary Modly noted that throughout the history of our nation, the finest of every generation have stepped forward to serve the cause of freedom around the world even if they were denied those same freedoms at home simply because of the color of their skin. On December 7, 1941, Doris Miller did not let the prejudice of others define him, he said. “Dorie Miller was the son of a sharecropper,” said Modly. “And, he was an American Sailor -- so designated by the uniform that he wore -- the same uniform all Sailors wore, and still wear, regardless of race, ethnic background, or political persuasion.”
Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, U.S. Representative for the 30th Congressional District of Texas, delivered an emotional and moving speech about the influence Miller’s legacy had on her life.
“All of my life I’ve heard about how great Doris Miller was,” said Johnson. “[He] was my childhood hero. It was the spirit of Dorie Miller that made me appreciate being an American more than anything else because, in the days of real segregation, a black man from my home town had stepped up to help save America. Dorie miller started the civil rights movement and perhaps even gave Martin Luther King, Jr. the spirit to lead us into the era of which he did.”
Johnson said naming CVN 81 in honor of Doris Miller has done so much to recognize and highlight that no matter the color of a person’s skin, they can achieve anything. Congressman Bill Flores, U.S. Representative for Texas's 17th Congressional District, which includes Doris Miller’s hometown of Waco, said it was an honor to pay tribute to one of America’s heroes from the greatest generation.
“[Miller] was a man who exemplified the hearts of our Sailors and the spirit of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. who we also recognize today,” said Flores. “Dr. King once said ‘the time is always right to do something right’ and that is what Petty Officer Miller did. His story of bravery is a testament to his courage and commitment to serve both his fellow Sailors and his country.”
For the members of Miller’s family present at the ceremony, it was a moment to reflect on the legacy their family lives to honor with every generation.
“When Uncle Doris decided that he was going to step up to the machine gun and shoot, it was a ‘why not me?’ moment,” said Henrietta Blednose Miller, a niece of Miller. “As we go through life, we’re all going to be confronted with ‘why not me?’ moments whether they are small or big, but with each one, you will be affecting someone if you take an action at that moment. At the time [Uncle Doris] did what he did, he did not realize how proud he was going to make this family.”
This will be the second ship named in honor of Miller, and the first aircraft carrier ever named for an African American. This will also be the first aircraft carrier to be named in honor of a Sailor for actions while serving in the enlisted ranks.
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 major combat operations. 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.
Watch a recording of the ceremony from Pearl Harbor on the Navy Live blog.