Military Weekend: A Heartwarming Story
A couple of weeks ago we wrote about the commissioning of a Navy destroyer named after Marine Sergeant Rafael Peralta, a Marine who was nominated for the Medal of Honor.
This weekend, we share the story of how the brave acts of a U.S. Navy sailor 75 years ago are being recognized at the same naval air station.
The sailor is 102-year-old Chief Steward Andrew Mills, who was a steward for the captain of the aircraft carrier Yorktown in 1942, during the battle of Midway. Mills later became one of the Navy’s first black chief petty officers.
First, the story of 75 years ago, as told by Specialist 3rd Class Anthony N. Hilkowski at the Naval Base Colorado Facebook page, when Mills visited the USS Midway in June in honor of the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Midway.
Seventy-five years and one day ago, Chief Steward Andrew Mills was going about his daily duties, preparing meals and cleaning the Captain’s quarters on board USS Yorktown (CV 10) until his daily routine was disrupted by an attack by Japanese dive-bombers.
Within minutes of the initial attack, three bombs had struck the ship, killing and wounding dozens of Sailors and heavily damaging the ship. Mills thought the attack was over, but hours later two torpedoes tore open the port side of the ship and the ship began to sink. With no other option, the Captain ordered an abandon ship to all on board. The ship refused to go down even though she was heavily damaged, so the Captain organized a salvage party; Mills volunteered without hesitation.
Mills, along with the paymaster and another steward, went aboard the Yorktown to retrieve the ship’s payroll. When they found the safe, the paymaster was unable to open it, but Mills was determined. Through strong willpower and a little herculean strength, Mills managed to open the safe and retrieve the ship’s payroll. As they lowered the large leather valise, which held the payroll, to the deck of the USS Hammann (DD 412), another attack struck.
Four torpedoes sped toward the Hammann and Yorktown. The first torpedo tore the Hammann in half while the next three ripped open the starboard side of the Yorktown with Mills and the salvage party still onboard. The only thing the party was able to do was to abandon ship once again, but this time with no life jackets to help aid them. After safely making it into the water, Mills and the salvage party were rescued by a tug boat and transferred back to a destroyer, later to return to San Diego.
Mills separated from the Navy on August 10, 1945 after 11 years where he exemplified the Navy’s core values of honor, courage, and commitment. Mills’ government employment would not stop after leaving the Navy; he went on to be a postal carrier for 29 years.
According to Mills’ postal supervisor, he always had a cheerful manner and the willingness to carry out all duties he was asked to do as a Postal carrier.
Building 2030 on Naval Air Station North Island (NASNI) will be named after retired Chief Steward Andy Mills. The building will stand as a reminder to all who enter it, to what Andy Mills did, not only for the Navy, but for the people he came into contact with.
“Chief Mills’ courage during one of the Navy’s most decisive battles of World War II will inspire Sailors who reside in Mills Hall for years to come. His contributions to our country serve as a reminder to exhibit bravery when faced with hardship, commit to the task at hand, and remain unwaveringly loyal to the shipmates standing beside them,” said Capt. Scott Mulvehill, Naval Base Coronado’s commanding officer.
The building will house E-4 and below personnel who live on ships home ported at NASNI. The building will accommodate up to 900 Sailors, allowing them to have a place to go home to after a hard day’s work. Andrew Mills Hall will not only stand as a reminder for all who enter it to what he did, but his story will live on and he will continue to have an impact on junior Sailors, just like he had all those years ago.
On Thursday, the Navy inaugurated the new barracks in his name, “a rare honor for a living recipient.” (below)
According to the Navy Times, retired Chief Steward Andy Mills, from his wheelchair, waved to the sailors attending the ceremony and told reporters, “Oh beautiful…That’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen so far.”
Capt. Stephen Barnett, “who met Mills two years ago at an event in San Diego and said he was so moved by the man and what he had done that he wanted to honor him and have young sailors learn about the inspiring chief”:
He wasn’t treated like his shipmates but it never stopped him from his duty — a duty he carried out with courage, honor and commitment — and that remains a cornerstone of his character now
The Navy Times:
Mills vividly recalled to reporters one of the officers saying, “but I need one of those black boys over there” to go back on board the ship after it had been attacked by the Japanese. Mills, one of two African American sailors on the ship, agreed to go.
When the paymaster accompanying him could not open the safe on the USS Yorktown, Mills asked if he could have a go at it.
“Click. I went up there and turned it. Click,” he said, grinning. “Money fell all out of it.”