WACO, Texas (KWTX) Hundreds gathered Friday on the 77th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor for the dedication of a memorial honoring hometown hero Doris Miller, the Navy mess mate who manned a gun he’d never been trained to use as Japanese bombs rained down on the U.S. fleet.
"He was the first African-American to be awarded the Navy Cross and in his efforts he didn't know that he was also really a beginning of the civil rights and equality movement in particularly in the Navy," said Doreen Ravenscroft, who spearheaded the nine-year project on the banks of the Brazos next to the Bledsoe-Miller Community Center.
"I'm actually overwhelmed,” she said.
“It's been a long time coming.”
Miller was assigned to the USS West Virginia when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
During the attack downed as many as five enemy planes, according to some reports, although Miller himself later told officials he thought he hit just one.
After he ran out of ammunition, he helped carry wounded comrades to safety.
Miller was awarded the Navy Cross for his gallantry, although some supporters have continued to work to try to convince the Navy to award Miller the Medal of Honor.
“You’re standing beside a hero who didn't intend to be a hero when he woke up that day. 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 a nation," Waco City Councilwoman Andrea Barefield told the crowd at the community center.
The memorial consists of a 9-foot-tall, 700-pound bronze statue created by sculptor Eddie Dixon of Lubbock, was unveiled on Dec. 7, 2017 and a 170-foot-by-30-foot memorial with two slanted walls shaped like the hull of a battleship, with the statue of near the bow.
“I'm completely convinced that his devout sense of duty and bravery that was in his heart is what compelled him and defined him more than the rank on his arm and the duties he was assigned,” Rear Adm. Keith Jones, Friday’s keynote speaker, said.
Miller died on Nov. 24, 1943 during the battle of the Gilbert Islands, when his ship was torpedoed and sunk in the Pacific Ocean.
The Navy commissioned a ship, the USS Miller, in his honor in 1973.
The ship was decommissioned in 1991.