By Robert J. Rush, Sr.
My brother, Frank, recently sent me a link to an article about a history making event at the navy. The article is entitled “A Military 1st: A Supercarrier Is Named After An African American Sailor.” He correctly thought I would particularly be interested as a retired sailor. He was more than correct.
The article goes on to explain that the event was particularly amazing because super carriers are normally named after U. S. presidents, not enlisted sailors, and especially not enlisted ‘Black’ sailors. Well, you should be proud to know that according to the article, a supercarrier now on the drawing boards will be christened the USS Doris Miller, after our own Doris Miller from Waco, Texas. That is an awesome honor.
After reading the article, I thanked Frank and decided to expound on the story some, providing a brief historical update on Blacks in the navy since the days of the heroic actions of Doris Miller. I would like to share that with you.
As covered in the article, the heroic actions of Doris Miller in the heat of battle demonstrated to many that Blacks could do more in service to our country that just be messmen or stewards, who took care of naval officers by laying out their clothes, shining their shoes and serving their meals. That’s almost all we were allowed to do at the time in 1941. Even touching the guns and firing them as Doris Miller did was against the regulations at that time. However, his actions caused many senior military and non-military leaders to rethink how Blacks were being used in the navy. The impact of what he had done started the navy to training Black sailors for other rates/jobs such as gunner’s mate, radioman and radar operator. It even started them to think about the idea of having a Black naval officer.
Projecting the story a little forward in history, the navy decided to give the idea of making Black officers a try. First the navy experimented in 1944 by selecting 16 enlisted Blacks to be secluded and trained to become naval officers. This ultimately led to the “Golden 13,” the first group of Black naval officers (12 commissioned officers and 1 Warrant Officer). Seems the navy just arbitrarily chose 13 of the 16 though all of them excelled and passed all of the tests. One claim was that by doing so, it kept the commissioning percentage in line with the other commissioning sources.
Later, in 1945, the esteemed Naval Academy admitted six Blacks into its halls as midshipmen, including Wesley Brown. The five men who came before Brown as Midshipmen were chased out of the academy altogether. (No reason was given in the source articles). So, Brown was the first to make it to graduation/commissioning in 1949. From there he forged a successful 25-year naval career, retiring as a Lieutenant Commander (O-4).
Fast forward again and the navy tried another experiment. They experimented with commissioning Black officers into the navy through a traditional Historically Black College or University (HBCU). They tried this in 1968, choosing Prairie View A&M as that HBCU, out of three HBCUs that were being considered. That’s how PV got it’s NROTC unit, of which I (from Waco, TX) became an original member in 1968, my freshman year there.
To complete the unit, in addition to our freshman class, they allowed some upper-class army ROTC students to switch over to the NROTC. The first class of the PV NROTC graduated and received their commission in 1970. There were 13 of them. They chose to revive the moniker, the Golden 13. That class set records for performance during their time in service, yielding 6 or 7 O-6 and above officers (i.e., naval Captains and Admirals) out of that class. This was and remains today to be an unprecedented percentage for the whole navy’s commissioning sources, including the Naval Academy.
My class graduated in 1972 as the first, full 4-year class from the historic unit. After 20 years of active service, I retired in 1992 as a Lieutenant Commander (O-4). We all celebrated the unit’s history back in 2018 at the 50th Anniversary ceremony of the PV NROTC unit. Johnitha and Rashaad supported me by attending the event with me. They got the opportunity to see and hear about the proud history of our unit. They also got to meet my best friend from my active days in the navy, CWO4 Dean Johnson, who has since gone to be with our Lord and Maker. As an aside, some others of you may remember meeting Dean. He and his wife Karen came to Waco to support me at Mary’s funeral.
How about that for fitting the Doris Miller story into an even larger story with even more personal and Waco relevance? Coincidental to us, especially considering I never planned to have anything to do with the military. Not coincidental to God, who has blessed me all along the way and continues to do so each and every day.
This article was originally published in the October 2020 issue of The Anchor News. The Anchor News is a free, monthly publication of Crawford Publishing. The Anchor News is dedicated to serving the community and surrounding area, focusing on positive news and accomplishments of minorities. For more information about The Anchor News including how to subscribe or where to pick up a copy, please visit The Anchor News website.