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First cut of steel made for first aircraft carrier named for African American war hero

Written by on August 28, 2021

A shipbuilding company made its first cut of steel for the Navy’s newest nuclear aircraft carrier, which will be the first carrier named after a Black American veteran. 

“Shipbuilders, I thank you for the hard work, innovation and dedication you will put into transforming this first piece of steel into an awe-inspiring aircraft carrier,” said Jennifer Boykin, president of Newport News Shipbuilding.

The first cut of USS Doris Miller was held on Wednesday, and the carrier will honor Doris “Dorie” Miller, a Navy cook and the first Black American to be awarded the Navy Cross in 1942.

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After being presented with the Navy Cross by Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, on board USS Enterprise (CV-6) at Pearl Harbor, 27 May 1942. The medal was awarded for heroism on board USS West Virginia (BB-48) during the Pearl Harbor Attack, 7 December 1941. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

After being presented with the Navy Cross by Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, on board USS Enterprise (CV-6) at Pearl Harbor, 27 May 1942. The medal was awarded for heroism on board USS West Virginia (BB-48) during the Pearl Harbor Attack, 7 December 1941. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.
(National Archives)

He is remembered for helping rescue fellow service members during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and for firing a .50-caliber anti-aircraft machine gun until it ran out of bullets, even though he had never been trained on how to operate the weaponry. 

“It wasn’t hard,” he recalled during the war. “I just pulled the trigger and she worked fine. I had watched the others with these guns. I guess I fired her for about 15 minutes. I think I got one of those [Japanese] planes. They were diving pretty close to us.”

Miller joined the U.S. Navy in 1939 at 19 years old, when Black service members were not eligible for promotion and were consigned to the messman branch, the Navy Times previously reported.  

Miller, who was the son of Texas sharecroppers and the grandson of slaves, said being in the Navy, “beats sitting around Waco working as a busboy, going nowhere.”

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He died later in the war when a Japanese torpedo hit the USS Liscome Bay in 1943, and was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart. 

His memory continues into 2021, with some of his family members also attending the Wednesday steel cutting ceremony. 

“Cut that steel,” Miller’s great-nephew, Thomas Bledsoe, told shipbuilder Gerald Bish on Wednesday. 

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“The Doris Miller story provides so many lessons to us as Americans,”  Bledsoe said. “The Miller family cannot express in words what this means to us, to Americans and to anyone inspired by Doris Miller’s story.”

The carrier will be delivered to the Navy in 2032, and is expected to launch that same year.  

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“It is so fitting and timely during a period of significant discussion and change we come together to begin construction of one of our Navy’s next great aircraft carriers, in the name of one of the finest heroes of the greatest generation,” Rear Adm. James Downey said. “We will construct a sound and mighty warship worthy of his legacy.”

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