Members of Doris Miller’s family and NNS President Jennifer Boykin watch as Gerald Bish performs the ceremonial first cut of steel for CVN 81. Photo by Ashley Cowan

Steel Cut Kicks Off Doris Miller Construction

Published September 1, 2021

Newport News Shipbuilding hosted a ceremonial event Aug. 25 that marked the first construction milestone in the life of Doris Miller (CVN 81), the fourth Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier.

During a small ceremony held inside of a manufacturing facility, Thomas Bledsoe, the great-nephew of the ship’s namesake, gave the order to “cut that steel” to shipbuilder Gerald Bish, who operated a large plasma-cutting machine that sliced into a steel plate. Shipbuilders, U.S. Navy leadership, elected officials and Doris Miller’s relatives signed their names on the plate.

“From this day forward, our shipbuilders will put their hearts into every pipe they fit, every unit they lift and every inch of steel they weld,” said NNS President Jennifer Boykin. “Shipbuilders, I thank you for the hard work, innovation and dedication you will put into transforming this first piece of steel into an awe-inspiring aircraft carrier.”

Ceremony participants included Rear Adm. James Downey, program executive officer for aircraft carriers; U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott; Master Chief Petty Officer of the U.S. Navy Russell Smith; shipbuilders and six members of Doris Miller’s family. Rebekah Jones, a sheet metal apprentice, performed the national anthem and Michael Gray, a machine hand, delivered the invocation.

Doris Miller is the second U.S. Navy ship named in honor of Miller, and the first aircraft carrier ever named for an African American. It also is the first aircraft carrier named in honor of a sailor for actions while serving in the enlisted ranks.

Miller is credited with heroic actions while serving aboard the Newport News-built West Virginia (BB 48) during the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Miller’s bravery earned him the Navy Cross.

Doris Miller also is the second ship of the two-carrier contract award NNS received in January 2019 for the detail design and construction of Ford-class aircraft carriers; Enterprise (CVN 80) being the first ship of the contract. A ceremony celebrating
CVN 80’s first cut of steel was held in August 2017.

NNS shipbuilders currently are performing early manufacturing of Doris Miller, which includes structural fabrication and shop work.

Doris Miller’s keel is scheduled to be laid in 2026 and delivered to the Navy in 2032.

“The Doris Miller story provides so many lessons to us as Americans,” said Thomas Bledsoe, great-nephew of the ship’s namesake. “The Miller family cannot express in words what this means to us, to Americans and to anyone inspired by Doris Miller’s story.”