U.S. Rep. Bill Flores is mounting an effort to rename the Waco Veterans Affairs Medical Center in honor of World War II veteran and Waco native Doris Miller.
Flores, R-Bryan, introduced a bill last week that, if approved, will name the facility the Doris Miller Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The bill was supported by all 36 members of the Texas delegation in the House.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, also introduced a related bill in the Senate co-sponsored by fellow Republican Sen. Ted Cruz.
“I think it’s long overdue, and I believed that Doris Miller should have been honored a long time ago,” Flores said in a phone interview. “It gives the prestigious recognition to a local hero that served our country admirably and with great heroism and bravery during World War II.”
Miller was a cook aboard the USS West Virginia when the ship was attacked at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and he initially helped carry wounded sailors and his captain to safety as Japanese fighter planes fired at the ship.
Miller then took command of a .50-caliber machine gun and shot at Japanese aircraft.
His actions led to him becoming the first black person to receive the Navy Cross, the second-highest U.S. Navy honor. Miller died in 1943 while serving on the USS Liscome Bay, which was torpedoed in the South Pacific.
Flores said he was first approached by a group of Waco residents shortly after he entered office in 2011 about finding a way to honor Miller.
Often, congressional leaders seek to name a post office after a key military or community figure, but Flores said he decided to target the VA hospital instead.
“These days, you never know if a post office is going to be here in 80 years, so I said we’ve got to do something other than a post office with more permanence,” Flores said. “(The VA hospital) ties together military service and veterans and recognition all in one package, so that seemed like a significant recognition.”
Flores said he is gathering letters of support from Texas veterans services organizers to move forward with the legislation. The bill will go to the Veterans Affairs Committee for approval, and then be voted on by both the House and the Senate to make the name change official.
Flores said he hopes the new name will be approved in time for local Memorial Day celebrations.
Bill Mahon, a longtime veterans advocate who was in involved in efforts to save the Waco VA from closure in 2008, called the gesture a bold move that would bring well-deserved recognition to one of Waco’s hometown heroes.
Mahon said previous discussions locally to name the various buildings and streets at the Waco VA failed to come together.
“Most VA hospitals and most federal buildings are named after highfalutin generals and people who, quite frankly, weren’t the fighters of the war,” Mahon said.
“Doris Miller wasn’t trained to be on the battlefield, but physically, mentally and in his heart he was equipped to be on the battlefield because he went out there up and above his job.”
Mahon said he thinks that Miller has been denied recognitions, such as the Medal of Honor, because of his race.
“I want to see him recognized for the sailor that he was and for the hero that he was . . . for what he has done, not the color of his hide,” Mahon said.
McLennan County Veterans Service Officer Steve Hernandez said having the hospital bear Miller’s name would instill a sense of community pride and ownership in the facility and evoke the strong character of service that veterans are known for.
“Knowing that people were being burned and ships were being bombed, instead of him running away, for him to get in there doing that speaks volumes of him, regardless of race, it speaks to the character of a person to do that,” Hernandez said. “That’s something that we should all accept and honor as an accomplishment, the fact that he came from Waco.”