Doris Miller, a Waco-born World War II hero who sprung into action 77 years ago during the attack on Pearl Harbor by manning a machine gun and dragging his U.S. Navy captain and other shipmates to safety, was honored Friday with a dedication ceremony for the new Doris Miller Memorial.
For Flo Miller, a niece of Doris Miller, it was a surreal moment celebrating a beloved family member at the Bledsoe-Miller Community Center at 300 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., adjacent to the memorial.
“This is a blessed day,” she said. “I’m so proud. I don’t know how to say it. To have a family member that does this, and we are a part of him, it’s like a rock or a stone that’s been built.”
Speakers and about 400 attendees, including more than a dozen family members, honored Doris Miller as a champion for the nation and a local inspiration for anyone to become a hero. The dedication of the memorial, which includes a structure resembling a ship’s hull, a reflection pool and a statue of Miller, was held indoors because of rain.
Historians credit the bravery of Miller, who the military at the time deemed worthy only to work in the kitchen of the USS West Virginia, for bringing attention to the Navy’s discrimination against African-Americans. There is no evidence he shot down any Japanese planes during the attacks on Dec. 7, 1941, but he inspired scores of civil rights leaders and became the first African-American man to be awarded the Navy Cross.
A push for Miller to be awarded the Medal of Honor has continued since at least 2015. Miller is the namesake of the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Waco and a U.S. Navy ship and is featured on a postage stamp. He died two years after the Pearl Harbor attack at age 24 while serving in World War II.
City Councilwoman Andrea J. Barefield, whose district includes the memorial, said the dedication was a shining light on the banks of the Brazos River and read a proclamation declaring Dec. 7 as “Doris Miller Day” in Waco.
“When you stand at the feet of the statue looking at the ship and taking it all in, whatever you’re going through at the moment, you have the ability to know that right then in that moment, you’re standing beside a hero who didn’t intend to be when he woke up that day,” Barefield said. “He woke up to do his job. So every day when you get up, you never know when you’ll be called upon to change the face of the nation. We have evidence of excellence in Doris Miller, Waco’s son, that no matter what you are placed to do, called to do, are doing, could be doing, will be doing, your hero is in you.”
Flo Miller, who lives in Midland, said her uncle’s bravery is a source of strength in the family.
“I tell all my nephews and my nieces, ‘Every day you open up your eyes, you can see his picture, and that makes you know that you somebody,’ ” Flo Miller said. “You come somewhere, and you can do whatever you can to be the best you can.”
Work on the memorial lasted almost a decade. Doreen Ravenscroft, founder and executive director of Cultural Arts of Waco, led the project, which was supported by private donors and special-use taxing districts. She navigated a process that hit a snag in 2016 when it was learned that a tributary had not been calculated into the floodplain map for the site.
The budget more than doubled to $2.5 million, and about $950,000 of that amount still remains to be raised. The second phase of the project includes recreational public space surrounding the memorial.
On Friday, Ravenscroft said she was “emotionally drained” but overwhelmingly grateful to the many contributors. She was honored by the NAACP and the Congressional Black Caucus for her efforts.
“The story in Waco was being heard,” she said. “That was the most amazing thing.”
Stan Carroll, the architect for the project, was also on hand. The support and dedication of Waco was palpable throughout the process, Carroll said.
“When you think about the magnitude of this monument, this memorial, this dedication to Waco’s hero, the only words I can consider are ‘unspeakable joy.’ ” Barefield said.
Between the time he dragged his captain to safety and rescued shipmates from the burning, oil-slick waters of Pearl Harbor, Doris Miller grabb…