Day Trips: Doris Miller Memorial, Waco

Memorial honors African American war hero

Photos by Gerald E. McLeod

The Doris Miller Memorial on the banks of the Brazos River in downtown Waco honors a native son who served at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

The memorial, not far from the historic Waco Suspension Bridge in Bledsoe-Miller Park, looks like the shape of a ship from above and features a 9-foot bronze statue of Miller by Eddie Dixon of Lubbock. The park is named for Miller and for Jules Bledsoe, an African American opera singer from Waco.

Doris Miller was born on a subsistence farm near the Bosque River west of Waco. His mother, Henrietta, named him after her midwife, despite the protests of his father, Connery.

The third of four sons, Dorie, as he was called, was the barrel-chested star fullback on his high school football team. Just shy of his 20th birthday he joined the Navy.

In the segregated military, Miller was assigned to the USS West Virginia as a messman. When the first Japanese bombs struck his ship in Pearl Harbor, he was below deck.

Miller raced to the main deck where he helped move the critically wounded captain to safety. Then he manned an unattended deck gun, which he wasn't trained on, and began firing at the airplanes until he was ordered to abandon ship along with the remaining crew.

For his bravery, Doris Miller was the first African American to be awarded the Navy Cross. He was never awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, though he has been nominated many times. Numerous public buildings have been named in his honor, including one at Austin's Huston-Tillotson University.

Following a Christmas leave in 1942, Miller reported to duty on the USS Liscome Bay as a mess attendant. He perished with the ship on Nov. 24, 1943.

The Doris Miller Memorial honors Miller and other veterans at 300 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. in Waco.

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Doris Miller, Brazos River, Waco, Bledsoe-Miller Park, Eddie Dixon, Jules Bledsoe, Pearl Harbor, Huston-Tillotson

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