By Rebecca Fiedler
Doris Miller, a Waco historical figure from WWII, will be commemorated near the new McLane Stadium with a new large, riverfront outdoor memorial. Cultural Arts of Waco, a nonprofit organization, is fundraising for the memorial.
The proposed plans show pathways leading to a large, architectural structure with a reflecting pool and will be able to used as a stage for events.
“It’s bringing people together,” said Doreen Ravenscroft, president of Cultural Arts of Waco. “I think this is an opportunity to bring people together who want to celebrate what was a historical first.”
Plans for the memorial began in 2009 by a committee led by Dr. Gerald Powell, a professor in the Baylor Law School.
“The mission became to build an appropriate memorial for Doris Miller in his hometown, as Doris Miller was the first African-American to receive the Navy Cross,” Ravenscroft said.
The City of Waco dedication a portion of land in Bledsoe-Miller Park for the memorial, at the intersection of Washington Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
Ravenscroft said Cultural Arts of Waco received proposals from 27 designers across the nation. Eventually a design by Oklahoma City architect and engineer Stan Carroll was chosen. Eddie Dixon, a sculptor from Lubbock, also contributed to the design.
“We wanted a team approach to this project, because it’s a park as well as a memorial design and sculpture design,” Ravenscroft said.
Baylor has donated $20,000 to this cause, and other groups and organizations have given as well. Cultural Arts of Waco needs to achieve funds of around $500,000 before they can break ground on the memorial.
They are still around $190,000 away from this goal, Ravenscroft said. Ultimately it will cost $1,350,000 to build the memorial.
“We’re hoping that we will be breaking ground next year,” Ravenscroft said. “It just depends on how the fundraising goes this year.”
Ravenscroft said the memorial will pay tribute to Miller’s going beyond the call of duty in his actions at Pearl Harbor. Miller was a mess attendant second class in the Navy at Pearl Harbor and was collecting dirty laundry when bombs began to fall.
Miller gave assistance to a mortally wounded captain and then proceeded to fire at Japanese planes with an unattended deck gun.
“It was Miller’s first experience firing such a weapon, because black sailors serving in the segregated steward’s branch of the Navy were not given the gunnery training received by white sailors,” states the Doris Miller memorial website.
Wilton Lanning Jr., long time Waco resident and founding director of the Dr Pepper Museum and Free Enterprise Institute, said the Navy Cross was a major award for someone to receive.
“Doris Miller became a hero,” Lanning said. “He saved the captain of the ship by pulling him out of the line of fire and took hold of a gun. He was a mess attendant, not a gunnery person. But he stepped forward and was honored for that.”
Lanning said he feels Miller’s actions at Pearl Harbor were very heroic.
“At that time he became a role model for the folks in the U.S. Navy and the whole military service,” he said.
Ravenscroft said she thinks the site for the memorial along the river is beautiful.
“When the pathways are built, the memorial will be within walking distance of the new stadium, so it will be a wonderful feature; a destination people can walk to from the stadium,” she said.
Ravenscroft said she thinks the memorial will be a positive influence on the community.
“This just shows the leadership of one man who was only in his teens,” she said. “And how wonderful to have an example like that in your community. We need good examples for all young men; doing more than what’s expected for you.”