By Tyler Bui | Staff Writer, Video by Kennedy Dendy | Executive Producer
To honor the centennial birthday of Doris Miller, a Waco native and World War II hero, a Gospel Explosion event was held Saturday to raise money for completing his memorial.
Gospel singers Detrick Haddon, William Murphy, Keith “Wonderboy” Johnson, the Waco Community Choir, the Levites and the Rhema choir performed at the event.
Doreen Ravenscroft, president of the Cultural Arts of Waco Festival, said the event was held to raise money to complete the Doris Miller Memorial, located off of Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard.
“The purpose of this event is to help us bring final fundraising for the Doris Miller Memorial by celebrating with gospel music and bringing in some unique singers to Waco,” Ravenscroft said. “We hope it brings awareness that we still have $76,000 to raise.”
Miller was born in Waco, where he attended A.J. High School as a football player. He graduated high school early and enlisted in the Navy.
“In joining the Navy, all African – Americans at the time could only work as messmen doing service work [such as] cleaning shoes, doing laundry and those kinds of things,” Ravenscroft said. “He trained on a training ship and then was commissioned to go to West Virginia, then eventually he was at Pearl Harbor.”
Miller was awarded the Navy Cross for his bravery and initiative during the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
“USS West Virginia was torpedoed, and the captain was mortally wounded. At that time, Doris Miller moved him to a place of safety and was asked by young officers to man a gun,” Ravenscroft said. “He was a part of saving lives and it was for that he was the first African American that was awarded the Navy Cross.”
Ravenscroft said that the memorial reflects the ship Miller served on and honors the lives lost during the attack.
“The rear of the memorial is based on a ship’s hull. You can see that the [memorial] is made of many parts, which [represents] Doris Miller being part of a team, and each of these parts represent an area of the ship, and the men that were in the ship,” Ravenscroft said. “The round reflection pool is for the remembrance of all the men lost at sea, including himself.”
Ravenscroft said that it’s important to honor Miller because he was a hero not only in the war, but in the civil rights movement as well.
“It’s really important to honor him because at that time in history, an African – American did not have the privileges that [they have] today, and I think he unknowingly was a quiet leader of the civil rights movement,” Ravenscroft said. “Using that initiative to man a gun and do something that the Navy thought a black man should not do, he [made the Navy] realize that everyone should have equal opportunities.”
Doris Miller’s niece, Florietta Miller, said it was exciting to attend this event because of his bravery and what that did for her family.
“He’s my uncle, and we built our roots up through him,” Miller said. “So it’s really exciting to be here. He was all of our heroes, and if it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t be here.”
Another of Miller’s nieces, Brenda Haven, said her family is thankful that Waco is acknowledging his heroism and efforts in World War II.
“I know my grandmother would be awfully proud to know that Waco is honoring her son finally,” Haven said. “To the mayor and Waco in general, we appreciate what they are doing — bringing his name alive, an American Texas hero, home.”