On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the Navy will name its new $12.5 billion aircraft carrier after Mess Attendant 2nd Class Doris Miller, the first black American to receive the Navy Cross for valor, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.
Miller, a native of Waco, Texas, received the prestigious award in 1942 after he fired back on Japanese planes with a machine gun on Dec. 7, 1941, at Pearl Harbor. The Navy Cross for valor is the second-highest distinction awarded by the U.S. military for valor.
At the time of the attack, black Americans weren't allowed to man a gun in the Navy.
Doreen Ravenscroft, president of Cultural Arts of Waco and team leader for the Doris Miller Memorial, told the paper, "I think that Doris Miller is an American hero simply because of what he represents as a young man going beyond the call of what's expected."
"Without him really knowing, he actually was a part of the civil rights movement because he changed the thinking in the Navy," she added.
Miller died in 1943 when the ship he was on was attacked by a Japanese submarine during the invasion of the Gilbert Islands.
The USS Miller is a Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier — the new kind of carrier the Navy is hauling out to replace Nimitz-class vessels.
According to the Navy, as of December, 14 ships had been named for African Americans, including destroyers and a ballistic missile submarine.