NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — Newport News Shipbuilding made its first cut of steel on Wednesday for the Navy’s newest nuclear aircraft carrier, the first carrier to be named for an African American.
It’s also the first carrier to be named in honor of a sailor for their actions while serving in the enlisted ranks.
The USS Doris Miller will honor the World War II Navy cook aboard the Newport News-built West Virginia who heroically jumped into action during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
Miller helped carry several wounded soldiers and later took control of a .50-caliber anti-aircraft machine gun, firing it until it ran out of bullets despite never having been trained to fire one.
“It wasn’t hard,” he remembered, he said. “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 became the first African American to be awarded the Navy Cross in May 1942. He died later in the war when the USS Liscome Bay when was struck by a Japanese torpedo in 1943. About 650 of the more than 900 sailors on the ship died.
Miller was posthumously given a Purple Heart.
Miller’s great-nephew, Thomas Bledsoe, gave the order Wednesday for shipbuilder Gerald Bish to “cut that steel.”
“The Doris Miller story provides so many lessons to us as Americans,” said Bledsoe. “The Miller family cannot express in words what this means to us, to Americans and to anyone inspired by Doris Miller’s story.”
Shipbuilders, U.S. Navy leadership, elected officials and Doris Miller’s relatives signed their names on the plate that took the first cut.
“Today we recognize the start of construction of the fourth ship of the Gerald R. Ford class,” said Jennifer Boykin, president of Newport News Shipbuilding. “From this day forward, our shipbuilders will put their hearts into every pipe they fit, every unit they lift and every inch of steel they weld.
Those participating in the ceremony included U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., who offered remarks; Rear Adm. James Downey, program executive officer for aircraft carriers; Master Chief Petty Officer of the U.S. Navy Russell Smith; shipbuilders and six members of Doris Miller’s family.
Other members of Miller’s family were at the event in addition to Congresswoman Elaine Luria, Congressman Rob Wittman, and Capt. Andrew P. Johnson, commanding officer of Supervisor of Shipbuilding, Conversion and Repair in Newport News.
The Doris Miller’s keel will be laid in 2026 and delivered to the Navy in 2032.
You can watch the ceremony below.
The ship is expected to launch in 2032.