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HII holds steel cutting ceremony for Ford-class aircraft carrier Doris Miller

Family members of Doris Miller, who earned a Navy Cross for his actions during the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, participated in a ceremony marking the first cut of steel for the Ford-class aircraft carrier named for him. Photo by Ashley Cowan/Huntington Ingalls Industries
Family members of Doris Miller, who earned a Navy Cross for his actions during the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, participated in a ceremony marking the first cut of steel for the Ford-class aircraft carrier named for him. Photo by Ashley Cowan/Huntington Ingalls Industries

Aug. 26 (UPI) -- The fourth Ford-class aircraft carrier Doris Miller has marked its first construction milestone with a ceremonial first cut of steel, the shipbuilder announced.

Huntington Ingalls Industries hosted the steel cutting event Wednesday at its Newport News Shipbuilding division in Virginia, according to a Wednesday company press release.

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A small ceremony was held at HII's Newport News shipbuilding division, where Thomas Bledsoe, the great nephew of the ship's namesake, gave the order to "cut the steel."

Shipbuilder Gerald Bish, operating a large plasma-cutting machine, and cut into a steel plate before shipbuilders, U.S. Navy leaders and elected officials signed their names on it.

"Today we recognize the start of construction of the fourth ship of the Gerald R. Ford class," Newport News Shipbuilding President Jennifer Boykin said at the ceremony. "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."

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"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," Boykin said.

Miller, the ship's namesake, was the first Black man to receive a U.S. Navy Cross for his actions during the Dec. 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor attack in Hawaii.

He was collecting laundry as a third-class mess attendant when he heard an alarm sound. This prompted him to man a machine gun on the USS West Virginia to fire at attacking Japanese planes on the morning of the Pearl Harbor attack.

"The Doris Miller story provides so many lessons to us as Americans," Bledsoe said at the ceremony. "The Miller family cannot express in words what this means to us, to Americans and to anyone inspired by Doris Miller's story."

U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va. offered remarks, and other ceremonial participants, included Rear Admiral James Downey, program executive officer for aircraft carriers; Master Chief Petty Officer of the U.S. Navy Russell Smith; shipbuilders; and six members of the namesake Miller's family.

The fourth Ford-class aircraft carrier is the second ship named to honor Miller. The first ship was the now-retired Knox-class destroyer USS Miller.

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The Doris Miller is the first carrier named for an African American, as well as the first named in honor of a sailor for actions while serving in the enlisted ranks.

"It is so fitting and timely during a period of significant discussion and change we come together to begin construction of one of our Navy's next great aircraft carriers, in the name of one of the finest heroes of the greatest generation," Downey said.

"We will construct a sound and mighty warship worthy of his legacy," he added.

Newport News is currently in the process of early manufacturing on the fourth Ford-class aircraft carrier, which includes structural and shop work, and it will be the second aircraft carrier built using completely digital drawings instead of traditional paper work, according to HII.

The Doris Miller's keel is slated to be laid in 2026 and delivered to the Navy in 2032.

"The Ford class features new software-controlled electromagnetic catapults and weapons elevators, a redesigned flight deck and island, and more than twice the electrical capacity of the preceding Nimitz-class carriers," according to HII.

The first-in-class Ford carrier departed Friday to Newport News Shipyard for a planned six month maintenance period called Planned Incremental Availability.

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The PIA will include fixing four of the 11 elevators to move ordnance on the ship, which have been a problem since construction began in 2009.

The Ford will also receive additional detailed inspections to assess any damage sustained during Full Ship Shock Trials and continue modernization and maintenance work prior to the ship's deployment next year, according to Naval Sea Systems Command.

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