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The U.S.S. Miller Will Be the Navy’s First Aircraft Carrier Named for an African-American

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The U.S. Navy announced Sunday that it’s naming an aircraft carrier after World War II hero Mess Attendant 2nd Class Doris Miller, making him the first African-American to have an aircraft carrier named in his or her honor.

Miller is noted for his heroics during the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, when he took control of a machine gun on the U.S.S. West Virginia and fired back at Japanese planes. He later received the Navy Cross for valor, making him the first African-American to receive the honor.

The U.S.S Miller, a destroyer escort, was previously named after him. That vessel was decommissioned in 1991.

“Doris Miller stood for everything that is good about our nation, and his story deserves to be remembered and repeated wherever our people continue the watch today,” Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas B. Modly said in a press statement.

While gathering laundry on the U.S.S. West Virginia the day of the Pearl Harbor attack, Miller heard the alarm on his ship sound. He went to his battlestation, but it was damaged by enemy fire. After attempting to help a mortally wounded commanding officer, Miller manned a .50 caliber anti-aircraft machine gun and fired at the Japanese planes until he ran out of ammunition. He then helped other injured sailors evacuate.

“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,” Doreen Ravenscroft, a team leader for the Doris Miller Memorial, told the Associated Press.

Ravenscroft also told the AP that African-American men in the Navy were not allowed to man a gun in 1941.

“Without him really knowing, he actually was a part of the Civil Rights movement because he changed the thinking in the Navy,” Ravenscroft added.

Miller died aboard the U.S.S. Liscome Bay when it was hit by a Japanese torpedo two years after Pearl Harbor.

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Write to Josiah Bates at josiah.bates@time.com