Navy building subs and carrier with ties to Pearl Harbor attack
Stars and Stripes December 5, 2023
The Navy is honoring the popular slogan “Remember Pearl Harbor” by naming three submarines and an aircraft carrier after ships and a sailor linked to the Japanese attack that brought the United States into World War II.
Three new Virginia-class, nuclear-powered submarines will be named USS Utah, USS Oklahoma and USS Arizona — the three battleships sunk and never salvaged from the Dec. 7, 1941, attack that killed 2,400 Americans.
The submarines will be joined in a decade by the USS Doris Miller, a new Ford-class aircraft carrier named for the sailor who served as a mess attendant on the battleship USS West Virginia and was awarded the Navy Cross for bravery during the attack. The medal is second only to the Medal of Honor.
Seven other battleships damaged during the attack were salvaged, repaired and returned to service in World War II. All decommissioned after the war, their names have been assigned to new Navy ships and submarines.
Some Pearl Harbor veterans did not want to see replacements in the fleet named for unretrievable USS Arizona, USS Oklahoma and USS Utah.
Nikki Stratton of Morrison, Colo., grew up listening to her grandfather, Donald Stratton, one of just 355 sailors who survived after a Japanese bomb pierced the deck of the USS Arizona and exploded in the forward ammunition magazine. The 1,177 who died on the USS Arizona accounted for nearly half of all Americans killed in the attack.
For much of his life, her grandfather didn’t want the name USS Arizona ever used again, she said.
“She’s not just a sunken ship,” Nikki Stratton said in a recent interview. “She’s a war grave, a war memorial and an education of what happens when the world goes awry.”
But in the years before Donald Stratton’s death in 2020 at age 97, he supported efforts to bring the names of the Arizona, Oklahoma and Utah back to the fleet. When the Navy announced in 2016 that it would name the first of a bigger, more powerful Block V version of the Virginia-class submarines USS Arizona, Donald Stratton was pleased.
“He understood that if the name died, so would the history and stories that are passed along,” Nikki Stratton said. “This way, with the name being brought back, the original history continues.”
She was selected as the official sponsor of the new USS Arizona. Navy tradition calls for a female with a tie to the name of a future ship or submarine to be named its public champion. Stratton was in Groton, Conn., on Oct. 30 when Cmdr. Thomas Digan took command of the pre-commissioning crew.
The Arizona will be the 30th Virginia-class, fast-attack submarine and is expected to join the fleet in 2029. Where the submarine is homeported will be the Navy’s choice, but Stratton said she had one wish on behalf of her grandfather.
“Commission it at Pearl Harbor,” she said.
In 2032, the USS Doris Miller is scheduled to join the fleet. It will be the fourth Ford-class supercarrier to be built, displacing more than 100,000 tons carrying 75 F-35C Lightning II fighter-attack aircraft.
Its namesake is the son of Texas sharecroppers who enlisted in the Navy in 1939. As a Black man, Miller’s roles in the officially segregated Navy at that time were limited to support positions. In December 1941, he was a mess mate serving on the West Virginia at Pearl Harbor.
During the attack, Miller aided wounded officers and sailors, then grabbed a .50 caliber machine gun and fired at the enemy dive bombers and torpedo planes.
“It wasn’t hard. I just pulled the trigger and she worked fine,” Miller said in news reports after the attack. “I guess I fired her for about fifteen minutes. I think I got one of those Jap planes. They were diving pretty close to us.”
As the West Virginia settled to the bottom of the shallow channel, the order was given to abandon ship. Miller helped wounded sailors swim through oily, body-strewn waters to the safety of docks on nearby Ford Island.
Despite calls for some in Congress that Miller receive the Medal of Honor and a commission as the Navy’s first black officer, that sailor returned to combat in March 1943 as a senior steward on the escort carrier USS Liscome Bay.
The night before Thanksgiving 1943, the Liscome Bay was off the Gilbert Islands when hit by a single Japanese torpedo. Miller and two-thirds of the crew of 900 were killed.
Recognition of Doris Miller has built gradually in the decades since World War II. Navy installations and public parks were named after him. The USS Miller, a frigate bearing his name, served in the Navy from 1973 to 1991. On Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2020, the Navy announced the fourth Ford carrier would bear Miller’s name.
The USS Doris Miller is expected to be christened in 2029 and commissioned into the fleet — joining the USS Arizona, USS Utah and USS Oklahoma — in 2032.