Doris Miller’s story is one of grit, determination and fortitude. Born in Waco, Texas, in 1919, Miller served in the United States Navy during World War II, rising from the rating of Mess Attendant to Petty Officer, Ship’s Cook Third Class. He was the first African American to receive the Navy Cross, which was awarded to him for his heroism during the Japanese naval attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941.
A fullback on his high school football team, he enlisted September 16, 1939, to travel and earn money for his family. He was trained as a Mess Attendant at the Naval Training Station in Norfolk, Va., and was serving aboard the battleship USS West Virginia (BB-48) when the Japanese attacked.
On the morning of December 7, Miller was hard at work when the first torpedoes struck the USS West Virginia. He rushed to his battle station to find it destroyed by the first torpedo. He then headed to the secondary gathering location where he was selected – because of his strength – to assist in moving the wounded captain of the ship to a safer location. Once the captain had been moved, he was ordered to begin loading anti-aircraft guns to defend the ship. He had never been trained to load or fire these types of guns but did so successfully until the ship was struck again and began to sink. For his efforts and bravery, he was awarded the first ever Navy Cross to be bestowed upon an African American. The medal was awarded to him personally on May 27, 1942, by Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, who was the Commander-in-Chief of the United States Pacific Fleet.
His Navy Cross citation reads, “For distinguished devotion to duty, extraordinary courage and disregard for his own personal safety during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii. While at the side of his Captain on the bridge, Miller, despite enemy strafing and bombing and in the face of a serious fire, assisted in moving his Captain, who had been mortally wounded, to a place of greater safety, and later manned and operated a machine gun directed at enemy Japanese attacking aircraft until ordered to leave the bridge.”
Later, he was assigned to the newly-constructed escort aircraft carrier, USS Liscome Bay (ACV/CVE-56) and was on board during the ship’s first mission to secure the Makin and Tarawa Atolls in the Gilbert Islands. On November 24, 1943, before dawn a single torpedo struck the ship from behind. The torpedo detonated inside the ship, which caused the ammunition stored below deck to explode, shearing the back half of the ship off. The USS Liscome Bay sank in just a few minutes, killing 646 of the 918 personnel on board; Doris Miller was among those whose bodies were claimed by the sea and never recovered.
Cultural Arts of Waco spearheads new project
Cultural Arts of Waco is a nonprofit organization in Waco that has historically sponsored an annual art festival in Waco, TX. Now Cultural Arts honors its mission which intends to celebrate and promote the community’s diverse, artistic and cultural life, develop and enrich its cultural capacity, and champion the economic, social, and educational benefits of the arts in the Greater Waco area and beyond. The Cultural Arts team endeavored to honor an awe-inspiring African American hero while providing a place for remembrance, reflection and learning to honor those who served their country in times of need and those who gave the ultimate sacrifice of their lives.
Defining the memorial
The project set out to commemorate a WWII Hero for valor and bravery. However, the memorial’s impact increased and grew to be instrumental in celebrating positive racial relationships among the citizens of Waco. Since Doris Miller was born and raised in Waco and was the first African American to be awarded the Navy Cross for his bravery during the attack on Pearl Harbor, he was a natural fit.
The memorial incorporates a reflecting pond and a bronze figure of Doris Miller. The feature element is that “Many Sailors Make a Ship,” a stainless-steel wall that provides a reference to WWII naval history and specifically the USS West Virginia naval battleship, the ship on which Miller was serving during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Project materials include stainless steel, bronze, concrete, granite, landscaping, and water. The entire project measures 17’ tall x 230’ long x 70’ wide. The bronze figure measures 9’-0” tall, the stainless-steel wall is 140’ long x 17’ tall, and the pond is 60’ in diameter.
On quiet days the memorial takes on a calming, more pastoral state. The stepped seating is oriented to provide views toward the perpetual river flow, offering opportunities for WWII education, relaxation, and reflection. However, during community events the memorial is designed to become an outdoor performance venue. On more lively days, during public activities and performances, the stainless-steel wall activates the main stage plaza by becoming the backdrop to the performance. The seating steps are transformed to community choir risers, the lawn between the stage and the river becomes a natural outdoor audience chamber, and the historic Washington Street Truss Bridge offers elevated viewing of the entire venue. These are the days that will have lasting community impact, where friends and family come together to perform, celebrate community, and honor valor, bravery, and heroism.
Black Granite above and below the water
When Brazos Valley Flooring was approached by Darden Commercial Floors to install the granite on the memorial, John Smith of Brazos Valley Flooring knew he would need a trusted and top-quality installation system to comply with the stringent requirements and ensure a job well done. Upon reviewing the scope of the project, all answers pointed definitively to Merkrete, the leader in waterproofing, crack isolation, setting materials and grout technology.
The installation consisted of approximately 5,000 square feet of 24” x 24” x 5/8” inch Black Granite. The granite was split between polished and flamed. Polished granite was used in the reflecting pond due to its ease of cleaning, and flamed granite was used in the areas where foot traffic occurs because of its slip resistant texture. Black granite was used to give the illusion of depth despite the fact that the reflecting pool is just three inches deep.
Systems warranty and on-site support seal the deal
Cody Wickman and Clint Anna, Sales Representatives from Merkrete, submitted a complete installation system including Merkrete Hydro Guard SP-1 waterproofing, crack isolation and 855 XXL Mortar, and Black Sapphire ProGrout by Merkrete. This sole-sourced Merkrete installation system was submitted and approved by the GC and Darden Commercial Flooring. Cody Wickman was on site frequently during the installation process and advised and demonstrated installation techniques that led to significant time savings over the course of the project. John Smith of Brazos Valley Flooring stated, “Cody was an invaluable resource to us. Watching his techniques and getting a helping hand was something that we really counted on.”
The specifications called for LHT mortar meeting A118.15 and a high-performing A118.7 grout. Darden Commercial Flooring had used Merkrete 855 XXL Mortar and 856 XLF Mortar in the past and knew they could count on Merkrete performance despite the challenging outdoor conditions found in central Texas.
Merkrete proved the perfect match for a specific challenge again, considering the strength of the mortar it called for. “We used large and heavy natural stone, which require a mortar with a super high bondability that can handle the weight of the tiles,” said Smith. Anna added, “Merkrete 855 XXL is a high-performing multipurpose polymer-modified setting adhesive for installing extra-large-format porcelain, ceramic tile and natural stone for both floors and walls, and can be used as thin or medium-bed setting adhesive for stone. Merkrete proved it could hold its weight, allowing Brazos Valley Flooring the strength and performance they required.”
Darden Commercial Flooring prefers MERKRETE’s 855 XXL LHT Mortar for these types of applications. “The smooth and creamy material makes for easy spreading, especially when speed is a factor,” said David Booker, Project Manager of Darden Commercial Flooring. 855 XXL LHT Mortar works great for indoor/outdoor applications and offers high strength and flexibility.
It was critical that Darden Commercial Flooring chose a company that would be able to get the products delivered when required, and the job completed on time. Merkrete is a member of ParexGroup, one of the largest companies and a worldwide leader in tile setting materials, façade finishes and technical mortars, established in 22 countries with 68 manufacturing plants and over 4,100 employees working to deliver innovative building solutions.