Miller’s great-nephew, Thomas Bledsoe, and family were in attendance.
“It’s one of those moments that’s indescribable because of the emotional impact of knowing what’s happening here today," Bledsoe said.
The family came from Texas. They were joined by shipbuilding representatives, elected officials and Navy officials for the ceremonial steel-cutting to kick off construction.
“With our family,” Bledsoe said, "it means so much that his name is still going to be able to stay alive."
Miller was a Navy Messman stationed at Pearl Harbor. On Dec. 7, 1941, when Japanese warplanes attacked, he went to a gun post. He shot at the invading planes with no prior shooting experience.
His heroism earned him the Navy Cross. It was the first one given to an African American Sailor.
“The ability to step forward and do something you’re not trained to do because that’s what needs to be done,” Navy Master Petty Officer Russel Smith said, “is the essence of what it means to be an American Sailor."
Now, Miller will also be the first to have a new carrier named after him.
“To know how far we have moved as a nation - to be able to have something named after an African American,” Bledsoe said, “for him to be able to see where we’ve come as far as then and now is going to be a wild factor for him."
A piece of steel lay on a conveyor belt near a steel-cutting machine. Many people, including the family, signed the piece of steel with permanent markers.
The machine was then turned on, emitting an intense flame and cutting the piece of steel.
The ship is expected to be complete by 2032 and will utilize modern technology to build, according to Newport News Shipbuilding President Jennifer Boykin.
“Doris Miller will be built using tablets and not drawings, which is really important,” Boykin said. “We’re bringing in young shipbuilders that know a whole lot about how to manipulate a tablet than they do about drawings.”
For Bledsoe and the family, he said they are already looking forward to when the ship will debut.
“We’re already talking about children that are not born and great-grandchildren that are there,” Bledsoe said. “How they’re going to get there and how we’re going to be there for that moment."