All transcripts and recordings from commercial media sources are courtesy of the copyright holder.
Jan. 20, 2020: Remarks at the Naming CVN 81 in Honor of Doris Miller, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
It’s an honor to join you all here on the birthday of one of our nation’s, and the world’s, greatest spiritual, intellectual, and moral leaders.
But before I begin, please allow me a moment to recognize the families of those shipyard workers who lost their lives in the very recent horrible tragedy here at Pearl Harbor. To the families of Vince Kapoi, Jr. and Roldan Agustin: I want you all to know that our entire Navy family grieves with you. To Roger Nakamine, a survivor of the shooting, we are with you as you recover from your physical injuries and emotional trauma.
We understand that service to our nation, particularly here in this incredibly strategic, and beautiful, location has at certain times in our history exacted a price that seems disproportionate and unjust.
We hear this, and trust you understand that we are committed to understanding the truth behind this tragedy and that we will pursue that truth, with the primary commitment to bring you a complete and transparent understanding of what happened and why.
We are with you. We want this understanding as much as you do. We want it so that we can do everything we can to ensure no other families in our broad Naval community have to feel the pain you feel today. But most importantly, so that you can heal and have a sense of peace about the tragic sacrifice of your loved ones. You have my commitment that we will pursue and communicate the truth—and we will do whatever we can do to help you heal as a family.
Ultimately, we all understand that service to our Navy extends beyond those we see in uniform. We have an obligation to protect all those who enter the gates of our facilities every day to make our Navy stronger. We take that obligation seriously, and we are heartbroken over what has happened here, in Pensacola, and Little Creek over the last several weeks. We grieve with you—and we will find answers for you.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. understood what it meant to sacrifice oneself for a greater cause. He eloquently observed, “Everybody can be great—because anybody can serve.”
And no one understands the importance and true meaning of that word “service” more than those who have volunteered to serve and support the United States Navy and Marine Corps.
These are the people we ask to daily and directly face the tyrannical forces that threaten peace and stability around the world.
These are the people who put the needs of others, of their nation, above themselves. They see personal sacrifice in support of liberty and human dignity as their duty. We see their service as a precious virtue unmatched in the history of the human experience.
Throughout the history of our nation, the finest of every generation have stepped forward to serve the cause of freedom around the world.
But today especially, as we celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., we recognize that for too many of these warriors, the liberty they defended overseas was denied to them and their families here at home, simply because of the color of their skin.
In his letter from a Birmingham Jail, Dr. King wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
75 years ago a war against injustice started right here. And on the days that followed, our nation bound together to secure victory against an existential threat to ourselves, but also to secure opportunities for broader liberty and justice for the entire world. It was a moment of national unity that is to be treasured, and held as a standard for what the term “American” should mean for all of us—no matter where we came from or how we look.
But even as we were unified in the pursuit of justice and peace for the world, we were not perfect in our own pursuits of these values here at home. That contradiction is an undeniable part of our history, one that cannot be glossed over or forgotten.
It is real, and when we study it and open our eyes to it, it hurts. It hurts our perceptions of ourselves, of our nation, and of our history.
But we should not despair, nor use those failings as the basis for eroding the value of the ideals we have pursued. Because the story of our nation is about much, much more than our imperfections.
It’s also about how, when we’ve fallen short—extraordinary Americans persevered with honor, dignity and courage, to remind us of our founding principles—and to what values we all truly aspire. And they have led us forward—out of those weaknesses and toward something we all know is right, and just, and good.
On this day, and every day, we must remember all those who fought for this aspiration.
An aspiration that treasured life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—not only for themselves, but for all the generations that would follow.
They represent everything that is good about our nation. They must stand at the center of our common memory, and our understanding about the unique place we hold in the history of civilization.
During the Civil War, Frederick Douglass urged Abraham Lincoln to open the doors of service to African Americans. He said, “Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letters U.S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder, and bullets in his pocket, and then there is no power on the earth or under the earth that can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship.”
And the African Americans who answered this call during the Civil War served with distinction and honor, ashore and afloat.
In fact, by the end of the war, the overall enlisted force of the Union Navy was 20 percent African American, with African American Sailors on every ship, and the enlisted ranks were largely an integrated force.
But in the years that followed, African Americans were denied an equal opportunity to serve, and by World War I, only 3 percent of the Navy was African American, serving under entirely segregated conditions.
On December 7th, 1941, there were African Americans serving here in this place, on Battleship Row – but all of them were below decks, restricted to the segregated Messman Branch as personal servants to white officers.
One of those dedicated Sailors was Messman Doris “Dorie” Miller, of Waco Texas.
Messman Miller had just finished serving breakfast on board the battleship WEST VIRGINIA when the torpedoes began to fall where we now stand. When an explosion prevented him from reaching his battle station as an ammunition passer, Miller was ordered to the ship’s damaged and blazing bridge.
There, he helped carry the ship’s mortally wounded captain to greater safety.
Then Miller took charge of a Browning .50 caliber machine gun—a gun that he had not been trained to use, simply because of the color of his skin. On the burning and heavily listing starboard deck, he loaded the weapon and shot back at the attacking airplanes until the ammunition ran out.
Alongside several officers and enlisted men, Miller fought fires on the bridge, protecting the captain until he was pronounced dead, then he traversed hand over hand to the ship’s deck, where he saved the lives of many fellow Sailors by pulling them from the burning water.
When the order came to abandon ship, he stayed behind to help others in the evacuation. Messman Dorie Miller was one of the last three Sailors to leave the ship.
For his actions that day, Miller was awarded the Navy Cross, the first African American to be so decorated.
And it is now my pleasure to invite Rear Admiral (Retired) Julius Caesar to read the original citation, the same words that were read on the deck of the USS ENTERPRISE, right here in Pearl Harbor, when Admiral Chester Nimitz pinned that Navy Cross medal on Doris Miller.
RADM. JULIUS CEASAR READ CITATION:
“For distinguished devotion to duty, extraordinary courage and disregard for his own personal safety during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, by Japanese forces on December 7, 1941.
While at the side of his captain on the bridge, Miller, despite enemy strafing and bombing and in the face of a serious fire, assisted in moving his captain, who had been mortally wounded, to a place of greater safety, and later manned and operated a machine gun directed at enemy Japanese attacking aircraft until ordered to leave the bridge.”
ACTING SECRETARY MODLY RESUMED SPEECH:
But the story didn’t end here in Pearl Harbor. Dorie Miller’s example, his leadership, and his courage under fire inspired millions, and increased pressure on the Navy to expand opportunities for African Americans to serve in every capacity. In the words of historians Thomas Cutrer and Michael Parrish:
“Doris Miller’s heroic actions at Pearl Harbor, and his quiet but persuasive voice as an advocate for positive change, constituted a vital contribution toward the full and equal acceptance of black men and women in the U.S. Navy and the nation that it serves.”
Dorie Miller’s story also had profound and lasting impact beyond the Navy. Newspapers around the country cited his story as an argument for broader civil rights and equality.
The great civil rights leader A. Phillip Randolph, cited Miller as he successfully pressured President Roosevelt to end discrimination in the defense industry.
Randolph also used Miller’s story as inspiration for a planned March on Washington, a march that would finally come to fruition so famously and consequentially in August of 1963.
So in a very real sense, those who witnessed Dr. King unabashedly state “I Have a Dream” have Dori Miller to thank, and to honor, and to respect, for his contributions to making that day possible, and for bringing our nation closer to coming to grips with its history of racial injustice.
In 1942, Dorie Miller was ordered home for a war bonds tour, and he was asked to address the graduating class at Camp Robert Smalls, where African Americans were finally receiving advanced training.
His message to them was simple, apolitical, and demonstrated that he understood what service in the United States Navy means.
To these Sailors he said, “Take advantage of every opportunity while in training, and I’m sure you’ll accomplish something later on for which you all will be proud for the rest of your lives.”
He was speaking to African American sailors, but he was really talking about what it means to serve, about being prepared, about being courageous, and about being proud to be a Sailor.
Shortly after that speech, he returned to sea. And never came home.
On November 24th, 1943, a torpedo from a Japanese submarine struck the escort carrier LISCOME BAY amidships, where Dorie Miller then served as a Ship’s Cook, Third Class.
The torpedo penetrated the ship’s light armor and detonated the aircraft bomb magazine, igniting the after section of the ship and killing most of the crew working there instantly.
23 minutes later, the entire ship went down.
Of the ship’s crew of over 900, only 272 survived. Ship’s Cook, Third Class, Dorie Miller, was not among them.
He died as he lived—an American Sailor, defending our nation, shoulder to shoulder with his shipmates to the end.
Dorie Miller stood for everything that is good about our nation. His story deserves to be remembered and repeated wherever our people continue to stand the watch today.
His is not the story of just one Sailor. It is the story of our Navy, our nation, and our ongoing struggle to form, in the words of our Constitution, “a more perfect union”.
That is why it is my honor today, to announce that our next FORD class Aircraft Carrier, CVN-81, will be named the USS DORIS MILLER.
This will be the second ship named after Doris Miller, sailing in the wake of the Knox-Class Frigate USS MILLER, which served through the Cold War.
At its 1973 commissioning, Congresswoman Barbara Jordan predicted, “The Doris Millers of the future will be captains as well as cooks.”
She was right, but perhaps even Representative Jordan’s prediction was not ambitious enough. Today that list of Dori Miller’s successors includes admirals and generals as well, with African American men and women serving at every rank, in every specialty, throughout our Navy and Marine Corps Team.
Many more African American men and women will doubtless be among the officers and crew when USS DORIS MILLER takes to the sea.
She will be the first Aircraft Carrier we’ve ever named for an African American. But I want to note that it will also be the first we’ve ever named for an enlisted Sailor.
In selecting this name, we honor the contributions of all of our enlisted ranks, past and present, men and women, of every race, religion and background, who form a ship’s crew or Marine Corps unit.
Today we remember the countless boatswain’s mates and gunner’s mates, radio and radar operators, yeomen and messmen, infantryman, from the newest recruits to most experienced chiefs and sergeants.
With this naming, we honor all of our enlisted personnel, and all who served in that capacity throughout the history of our Navy and Marine Corps.
They are the backbone of our naval force, the steel spine of our ships, and the faces of our great and diverse country in every corner of the world where they steam and serve.
Finally, with this naming we dedicate CVN-81 to all who served and sacrificed in World War II.
Despite the infamy that we associate with Pearl Harbor, the words of Lincoln at Gettysburg could just as easily be applied to these sacred waters:
“The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”
Likewise, we can never forget what they did here at Pearl Harbor, and in the four years of war that followed.
The fate of humanity was in the hands of young Sailors, Marines, Soldiers, Airmen, and Coastguardsmen.
And they answered the call, without hesitation.
Asked about his actions on USS WEST VIRGINIA, Dorie Miller told the Dallas Morning News,
“There wasn’t time to think. It just seemed like the thing to do.”
Isn’t that we expect from every Sailor?
Dorie Miller knew what was necessary and he did it.
Just like thousands of brave young Americans would do on that day, and millions would do in the long years that followed.
And because Dorie Miller’s generation “knew what to do” and sacrificed to do it, we have the freedoms that we enjoy today. We must honor them all. Because every day we enjoy the freedom they bequeathed to us is a tribute to their legacy.
Last year, my wife Robyn and I joined a 96 year old veteran of World War II named Emory Crowder at a performance of The Messiah at the Naval Academy.
Like Dorie Miller, Emory Crowder served in the Pacific theater, earning a Silver Star as a Corpsman serving with the Marine Corps. Who knows, Emory and Dorie may have crossed paths somewhere west of here in the vastness of this great Pacific Ocean between 1941 and 1943.
Emory stormed the beaches in Saipan and Tinian, and saved lives under fire with what equipment he could. On the way to Okinawa, his ship was sunk by a Kamikaze pilot, and he was rescued from the cold Pacific Ocean a few hours later.
I’ll never forget how after that performance of the Messiah, he was surrounded by Midshipmen who took pictures with him and thanked him for his service.
He simply responded, “Thank you, I did it so that you could have this life.”
I have never heard such a cogent and poignant explanation of service in my life. These veterans did what they did so that we could have this life, not them.
All of us who enjoy “this life” today owe a debt to all of the Emory Crowders, all of the Dorie Millers, all who served in the Pacific, the Atlantic and around the world in World War II.
It is each of them, regardless of race, creed, or color, whom we celebrate as we name this ship today.
The USS DORIS MILLER will be our most advanced and lethal warship. More than that, it will be the most advanced and lethal ship the world has ever seen. But beyond her capabilities as a warfighting platform, wherever this ship and her strike group may travel, the USS DORIS MILLER will also be:
- A reminder of the ongoing journey for justice that has defined our nation
- A tribute to our enlisted personnel, and
- A living, tangible memorial to all who fought in World War II.
Every Sailor and Marine who sails on board USS DORIS MILLER must honor its namesake’s legacy by showing the same initiative, professionalism and commitment that Seaman Miller did under the harshest possible conditions imaginable.
And every one of us here today must honor the dignity and leadership Dorie Miller showed as he spoke across the country, igniting a moral fight for justice and catalyzing change, change that would eventually transform our country—for the better.
Wherever and whenever the people of the world will see the USS DORIS MILLER, they’ll know what we value, what we stand for, and who we are as a people.
And they will remember the extraordinary journey that brought us here:
- How we have never relented in pursuing justice at home and abroad, and
- The ongoing work for peace that we must pursue as long as we remain a nation.
Dorie Miller was the son of a sharecropper—a descendant of slaves. He was not given the same opportunities that men of a different color were given to serve his country. But on December 7th, 1941, not far from where we are all gathered today, he would not be defined by the prejudice of others.
He was not just a sailor, he was an American Sailor—so designated by the uniform that he wore—the same uniform all American Sailors wore, and still wear, regardless of race, ethnic background, accent, religion, or political persuasion.
He was the greatest of sailors, an American Sailor.
And as an American Sailor, in the violence and chaos of that awful December day in American history, it was his character, not his skin color, or his uniform, that ordained that he would become something even more: an American hero.
And it is for that reason that the name Doris Miller will sail into history, from this point and place forward, adorning the most powerful American warship in the world for the better part of this century.
It is an honor he, his family, and all those who struggled for civil rights within our Navy, and our nation, duly deserve.
And it is an honor I am extremely privileged to have the opportunity to bestow.
Thank you so much for being here to share in this day. May God protect all who will sail on USS DORIS MILLER, and may God continue to bless this nation and all of the sailors and marines who go in harm’s way every day to keep us safe, and free.
Go Navy, Go Pearl Harbor, Aloha, and as always, Beat Army.
Jan. 3, 2020: Interview on Hugh Hewitt radio program. Click here for the YouTube audio recording of the segment.
HH: Of course the huge news overnight: President Trump ordered the killing of Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard–probably the second most important person in the rogue regime that is Iran.
Joining me this morning to talk about that and of course our force structure overall, Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly.
Secretary Modly, welcome. It’s great to have you back. It’s been nine months since we’ve talked. I’m glad to have you this morning.
TM: Good morning, Hugh. How are you?
HH: Great. First question has to come about last night. Do we have the assets and the rules of engagement in place to protect our citizens, our forces, our allies in the region that Iran could threaten as retaliation?
TM: I certainly believe that that’s true, Hugh. I think the President’s number one priority is to protect our people overseas. And so any action that we take over there has that in mind prior to any action being taken. And so we thought through those things pretty seriously, and we feel like we have the forces in place to protect. But that being said, the Iranians are a rogue regime, and they’ve got all kinds of nefarious ways of going about things. So we just have to be very, very vigilant and make sure that we’re taking care of our people.
HH: Secretary Modly, do we have carriers in the region? Are we dispatching more naval strength to the region in anticipation of potential retaliation?
TM: Yeah, well, Hugh, we do have a carrier in the region. I’d prefer not to get into more detail about what other forces may or may not be flowing into the area. But the Harry S. Truman is there. It relieved the Lincoln that had been there for about ten months. So, but other than that, I really, I can’t really go into much more detail.
HH: All right, but last question on this. The rules of engagement do allow our troops, especially our ships, to respond to any provocation?
TM: Yes, they do.
TM: They have the ability to protect themselves and protect Americans, and so they, that’s pretty clear to all of our commanders.
HH: Now originally, I scheduled this to talk to you about force structure, so I want to go there.
HH: I first have to say, though, you’re a fellow Buckeye and a fellow Browns fan. What do you think of Urban Meyer as the head of the Browns?
TM: I’m tracking that very closely. It’s been a very disappointing season for all of us. But I don’t know. I think that he’s a pretty strong football mind, and I think he has been able to build pretty good culture wherever he’s been, and I think that’s one of the things that seems to be lacking there the team. So if that’s the direction they go, I think there are a lot worse choices they could make.
HH: Now the reason I asked that is he builds things, he gets a plan, he sticks to it. The Browns have had eight plans, ten plans over the last 20 years, and that’s why nothing ever works. They don’t stick to a plan. The President has a plan for 355 ships in his Navy, and for 12 carriers. We aren’t anywhere close to that. When we talked nine months ago, we talked about this. Is there ever going to be a plan, Secretary Modly?
TM: Yes, and in fact, I’m actually here today at the U.S. Naval Institute. I’ve gathered together a group of both folks from inside the Navy, Department of the Navy, and the Marine Corps, and a bunch of outside experts and academics, and folks who have looked at force structure for years. And we’re going to sit down and talk this through, and we’re going to come up with some recommendations for Secretary Esper, and for the, ultimately for him to bring to the President to say look, this is the path that we need to be on to get to the number that you want. And the number itself can’t just be a random number. It has to be a number that works in terms of when we look at various war gaming scenarios and how the national defense strategy has changed, and what the threat scenarios are, and that’s what we’ve been working on, actually, for the last several months internally, doing something called the integrated naval force structure assessment, which is the first time we’ve actually brought the Marine Corps and the Navy together to look at this to determine what types of platforms and what that force mix should look like.
HH: Now I am certainly not the person to tell you what the force mix should look like, but I know what the number is, because the President has said it repeatedly – 355 ships.
HH: What was that memo to OMB about? Because to a civilian, and that’s what I am, I’m just a civilian. It looked like near insubordination.
TM: Well, now I wouldn’t say that, Hugh. I mean, we’re going through a budget process right now, and you know, that budget process has puts and takes, as particularly as you get to the end game, which is where we are now. We roll the budget out in February. And so we’re looking at those various puts and takes, and trying to present some options to, both to the Secretary of Defense and the President in terms of final decisions. So I mean, I think the OMB memo was, you know, had some concerns about where this might look. I think they overstated in that memo where that, where those decisions would drive the end force number. I think we’re still, regardless, we’re going to be over 300, or close to 300 at the end of this year. We started out the administration at 275. But the path to 355 is a challenging path, because you know, frankly, it’s a mathematical issue. I mean, if you’re going to grow the force by 25-30%, and we started at 275, you need to have a top line that matches that. And right now, we sort of have, we had a big bump in the first year or two, but we’re sort of inflation-adjusted, sort of flat going forward. And so that’s where the decisions base has to be brought and made clear to the President and the Secretary of Defense about, hey look, if this is the path we’re going on, we’re going to probably need to have more top line for the Navy.
HH: So Secretary Modly, if you go to this sit down this morning, and your first question is here is our budget, what can we build with it, you’ll have a very different discussion than if your first question is the President has said 355 and 12, how do we get there as fast as possible, and then what will it cost. Which approach are you going to adopt?
TM: No, no, my approach is the latter, and I’ve made that very clear from my first day in the acting seat, is that I want a plan for 355 in 10 years. And so that is what, that is the mandate that I’ve given the Navy and the Marine Corps to look at, and that is the way we’re looking at it. It’s not completely resource unconstrained. I mean, we have to be realistic about things.
But you know, my perspective on this is very consistent with where I was two years ago when I was sworn in as the under [secretary of the Navy], which I think the number is going to be more than 355. And I’ve always called it 355 plus, because I think it’s going to be that number plus a variety of other platforms that we’re probably, that we hadn’t thought about before, and that includes unmanned vehicles, it includes a new type of, perhaps, smaller amphib-type ship that we hadn’t looked at before. So I think it, my perspective is the right mix for us is going to be 355 plus, and that could be anywhere from 400 to, you know, 420 platforms, some manned, some unmanned, you know, some under the traditional guise that we’ve been looking at before.
HH: I’m so glad to hear that, because you’ll get a plan, then, if you demand it. My question is you don’t get what you don’t ask for. You don’t get the money unless Congress knows you need it, and you have to persuade. Are you prepared, and I know actings have some limitations, but you don’t seem to care about that, and I’m glad to hear that. Are you going to go up there and persuade the Hill that we need this money now to get to what the President has said he wants?
TM: Certainly. I mean, that is, that has been the challenge, because a 355 goal isn’t law, but it was put in law by the authorizers, and not funded by the appropriators. So that is the big challenge, and I’m glad you mentioned this point about me being acting. I mean, being acting doesn’t mean you’re pretending. So you know, I’m in the seat, and I believe that I am, have the responsibility and the authority to address these challenges that the Navy has, because we don’t really know how long I’ll be in the seat. And it’s a very critical time for our Navy, and I expect to take that on full force.
HH: You’ve got a new CNO. Is he as committed to 355 plus as you are?
TM: I, oh, he’s definitely, both he and General Berger, the new commandant, have been very much involved in the process of determining what this new force structure will look like, and has opened up a lot of creative options. So yeah, he’s very committed to it.
HH: Does it involve new shipyards, because that is one of the crucial bottlenecks. I’ve known about it for years even as a civilian, and it seems to me we can’t get to 355 unless we open or expand places like Philadelphia.
TM: I think it definitely, in the final analysis, if we are able to fund this and convince people that we need to fund this, it will create opportunities for other shipyards, not just Philadelphia, but probably some things in the Midwest that can produce smaller vessels that perhaps are unmanned and also built in other parts of the country. So I think it’ll definitely open up opportunities for our existing shipyards, but also for others as well.
And also, the other thing you need to think about is that the bigger the force is, the more maintenance you need. And that also opens up opportunities for expanding our maintenance bases, or our maintenance infrastructure across the country. And part of the problem we’ve had with this is that we haven’t been able to send a good, strong, consistent demand signal to those other shipyards, and so they’re just not interested in engaging with the Navy. And so we have to make sure that you know, this is a national imperative, and we’re driving towards a bigger Navy, and I think then, industry will follow.
HH: There is also the need for a 5th generation fighter, or a declaration that we’re not going to have one. Have you made that decision, yet, Secretary Modly?
TM: Well, we have the 5th generation fighter in the F-35. We are looking at sort of the 6th generation fighter right now, and that is currently under development. But no decision’s been made on what direction we’re going to go with that.
HH: Excuse me, I misspoke. But do you, are you committed to the 6th generation, because the F-35 doesn’t have the range that a lot of the experts I read say you need.
TM: Oh, I think we should always, yeah, I’m committed to always advancing our aviation capabilities, so you know, if the next generations, you know, we’re on 5th now, then 6th generation is clearly something we should be looking at and understanding what that’s going to take to get there.
HH: Last question, are you going to put back the submarine that was cut in the OMB and the other cuts in the OMB memo? Are they going to be back on the board today at the end of the day?
TM: Well, all those things, all those things are decisions that are going to be made in the coming, in the next several weeks. Ultimately, it’s a decision for the Secretary of Defense. I think, you know, we would love to have that submarine back in. And we’re going to make the case for it, and we’ll see whether or not the top line follows.
HH: Secretary Modly, thank you. Come back after you’ve had your sit down, and I’m glad you’re asking the first question the way you are. Good luck in getting everyone on the same team, and rowing in the same direction. I appreciate it. Finally, we might get a plan for 355, and it’ll be Tom Modly’s achievement. Thank you, Secretary.
TM: Thank you. Thanks, Hugh. Thanks for having me on.
[End of interview.]