Updated at 12:45 p.m. Aug. 10, 2017
A new barracks at Naval Air Station North Island was named Thursday in honor of a 102-year-old hero of the World War II Battle of Midway who became one of the Navy’s first black chiefs.
The structure now bears the name of Andrew Mills, a onetime steward who broke into a safe to retrieve important documents aboard the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown before it sank during the 1942 battle.
Andrew Mills Hall will house up to 900 sailors with ratings of E-4 and below who serve on ships docked at North Island, according to the Navy.
“Oh, beautiful — that’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen so far,” Mills, seated in a wheelchair, told reporters.
His niece, Debbie Mills, told 10News that the naming of the building was an honor and a blessing.
“I appreciate the Navy for recognizing him for all that he’s been through,” Debbie Mills said. “To leave something like this for the sailors to have their comfort spot, I just hope they appreciate it, and think of Mills when they’re in Mills Hall.”
Capt. Scott Mulvehill, base commanding officer, said 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.”
Mills performed his little-known heroics just over 75 years ago after the Yorktown was heavily damaged by Japanese aircraft.
The crew abandoned ship but the vessel didn’t sink, and he was one of those who volunteered to go back aboard in an attempt to salvage what at the time was one of the Navy’s few, and highly valuable, flattops.
The ship’s paymaster took Mills and another steward to retrieve documents from the safe but weren’t able to open it. It fell upon Mills to get inside the safe, and he eventually did in order to save the payroll.
However, as a valise with the money and documents was being lowered to the destroyer USS Hammann, a Japanese submarine fired a spread of torpedoes. The Hammann blew up and sank quickly and the Yorktown was damaged again, forcing the salvage team to abandon ship a second time.
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. The Yorktown eventually sunk.
The Tuscaloosa, Alabama, native joined a segregated Navy in 1934. Eight years later he was steward to Yorktown Capt. Elliott Buckmaster. As the war went on, he became a chief petty officer, serving as a mess specialist.
Mills left the Navy in 1945 and spent 29 years as a mail carrier.
— City News Service
>> Subscribe to Times of San Diego’s free daily email newsletter! Click hereFollow Us: