- The Washington Times - Monday, January 20, 2020

The Navy’s decision to name a future Ford Class aircraft carrier after a black sailor who was decorated for heroism following the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor has been met with widespread — but not universal — acclaim.

Naming the carrier the U.S.S. Doris Miller breaks with current Navy practice for naming aircraft carriers — the largest and most high-profile capital ships in the Navy’s fleet — after presidents and prominent service commanders.

A commentator known as Xenophon told the Task & Purpose military website that he wasn’t convinced by the Navy’s case that Miller merited breaking with precedent.

“He already has a ship named after him and there must be other sailors who gave their last full measure [and] also received the Navy Cross,” Xenophon wrote.

In recent years, the Navy has generally looked to former presidents like George Washington and Ronald Reagan or high-ranking Capitol Hill politicians like Sens. John C. Stennis or Carl Vinson to provide identities for their aircraft carriers.

Petty Officer Doris Miller, nicknamed “Dorie,” will be the first black American and first enlisted sailor to be given such an honor. He was working as a mess attendant — one of the few jobs in the segregated Navy that was open to African-Americans — at the time of the Japanese attack.

“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 Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly.

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Dallas Democrat who grew up in sailor’s hometown of Waco, Texas, said his example helped propel her into a life of public service.

“Miller showed the nation that patriotism knows no color and helped the nation understand the injustice inherent in the self-inflicted wound of segregation,” she wrote in a statement to The Washington Times. “The announcement of the naming of this vessel on Martin Luther King Day could not be more fitting.”

The only other professional Navy man to have an aircraft named in his honor was Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, who commanded the Pacific Fleet in World War II and later decorated Petty Officer Miller for his actions on Dec. 7, 1941 while assigned to the U.S.S. West Virginia.

According to the Navy record, Miller was picking up laundry when the Japanese planes attacked. He helped his shipmates to safety, then ran to the bridge and pulled his grievously wounded captain out of danger. He then ran to a .50 caliber machine gun and, although not formally trained on it, began firing at the attacking airplanes.

He remained at his position until he was ordered to join the other U.S.S. West Virginia sailors who were abandoning the sinking battleship.

“Xenophon,” the commentator, wondered if it was a once in a lifetime event or marks a change in naming criteria for aircraft carriers.

“I suspect the former in which case we have to ask, ‘Why this one exception?’” he wrote.

Another poster on the Task & Purpose website, who said he was a former Navy surface warfare officer, said he found the naming “grossly inappropriate.”

This “represents the PC Navy of today, not the U.S. Navy of the past in which I served,” poster JCTB130 wrote.

Having served in the US Navy as a Surface Warfare Officer for eight years I find this grossly inappropriate, and represents the PC Navy of today, not the US Navy of the past in which I served.

While criticism of the carrier’s proposed name has been muted, that hasn’t always been the case in the past. Some ship names have been controversial when they were announced.

Former Obama Navy Secretary Ray Maybus sparked outrage when he decided that one of the Navy’s new Littoral Combat Ships would be named in honor of former Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who sustained life-threatening wounds in a 2011 mass shooting in her home district of Tucson, Ariz.

In 1982, former House Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neil asked the Reagan administration to consider changing the name of the U.S.S. Corpus Christi, an attack submarine then under construction. It was thought some people would be offended to have a warship named for the Latin translation of “Body of Christ.” Navy officials solved the problem by changing its name to “U.S.S. City of Corpus Christi.”

While the current Nimitz class of aircraft carriers have generally been named in honor of former presidents, there wasn’t such uniformity for the earlier class of the ships. During World War II, several were named after former battles like Yorktown, Lexington and Ticonderoga.

Dorie Miller did not survive the war. He was killed in 1943 when a torpedo struck his ship during the Gilbert Islands campaign. 

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