The effort to build a monument to Waco’s most decorated Pearl Harbor hero has faced difficulties and delays since its groundbreaking in fall 2015, but the project is on course, backers say.
The larger-than-life statue for the Doris Miller Memorial is being cast now from a clay sculpture and is set to be dedicated Dec. 7, Pearl Harbor Day. A contract has already been let for Phase 1 of the project, with a reflecting pool, earthwork and landscaping, with a dedication set for Memorial Day.
But the project has cost more and taken longer than expected. At $1.3 million, the first phase swallowed up the budget for the whole project, said Doreen Ravenscroft, executive director of Cultural Arts of Waco, which oversees the project.
The cost is still being assessed for Phase 2, which includes a stainless steel wall in the shape of a ship’s hull, complete with engravings honoring other local World War II veterans. The prow of the ship-like structure will face the Brazos River from its site at Bledsoe-Miller Park, with Miller standing at attention inside.
“Within a couple of weeks, we’ll start fundraising for the steel wall,” Ravenscroft said. “It’s extremely important, because other than the Doris Miller statue, it’s the main sculptural element that defines the actual space, being based on a ship’s side. … I don’t think it will be hard to raise money for the next phase.”
Ravenscroft’s group unveiled the proposal for the memorial eight years ago, with the idea of honoring the first black hero of World War II.
Miller won the Navy Cross for his actions on Dec. 7, 1941, when Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. A mess attendant on the USS West Virginia, he dragged his injured captain to safety, then directed machine-gun fire at enemy aircraft as the ship sank.
He grew up a sharecropper’s son in the Speegleville area, played football for Moore High School and became a nationally known figure as the Armed Forces used his story to recruit African-Americans.
Miller was killed two years after the attack on Pearl Harbor in action aboard the USS Liscome Bay when a Japanese torpedo sank the ship in the Pacific Ocean.
Miller has since been honored with the naming of a cemetery, a YMCA branch and more recently, the Veterans Affairs hospital in Waco.
The new memorial was designed by Lubbock sculptor Eddie Dixon and architect Stan Carroll, and it will be built by Waco contractor John Erwin.
Gerald Powell, a Baylor law school professor who has been a key fundraiser for the project, said the memorial will give Miller’s story the prominence it deserves in his hometown.
“I want kids to walk by that monument and hear the story of Doris Miller and find the inspiration we know is there,” Powell said. “I think it sends a great message that we have come together as a community to recognize the importance of recognizing Doris Miller as well as all the other veterans of World War II.”
Funding for the memorial came from private donors, local foundations and $181,000 in downtown Tax Increment Financing Zone funds.
Powell said a series of setbacks have delayed the project, but he expects work to start this month once the project gets city building permit approval.
“I know some people look at that piece of property, and what they see is just grass, and they say, ‘It seems we had heard a good while back something is going to happen there,’ ” he said. “Things haven’t happened as soon as we wanted for a lot of reasons.”
Illness and family tragedies with the design team, as well as the need to redesign and relocate the project because of geological issues, have contributed to delays.
To address federal agencies’ floodplain concerns, the memorial has been pushed back about 75 feet from the original site, and it will be elevated three feet.
As a result, the network of walkways leading to the site had to be redesigned, which added to the cost of the project, Ravenscroft said. She said she is considering seeking TIF funds to help defray that cost.
Another cost factor was the complexity of the steel wall, which will be made of several thousand stainless steel pieces forming a see-through grid.
Each piece has to be fabricated individually with a precise curve determined by an algorithm, Ravenscroft said. That kind of work doesn’t come cheap, and the designers and contractor are trying to find the most cost-effective way to do it, she said.
In the meantime, Powell said supporters are planning celebrations for the statue on Dec. 7 and the completion of Phase 1 on Memorial Day, possibly including World War II re-enactors.
Officials with local foundations supporting the project said they’re eager to see the work completed.
“I want that project to get done,” said Felicia Goodman, executive director of the Cooper Foundation. “It’s really important that Waco completes it. Doris Miller is an important Waco hero and should have a memorial.”
Tom Stanton, executive director at the Bernard & Audre Rapoport Foundation, said he will be “thrilled to see the day when it comes to fruition.”
“They can’t do it fast enough as far as we’re concerned,” Stanton said.