WACO, Texas (NNS) -- The Navy honored Navy Cross recipient and Waco, Texas native Doris "Dorie" Miller with a wreath-laying ceremony in a park bearing his name during Waco Navy Week April 4.
Rear Adm. Jay Bynum, chief of naval air training, placed a wreath at the statue of Miller, in front of a small and supportive crowd during the small ceremony.
Dorie Miller was the first African American to receive the Navy Cross, at the time the third highest honor awarded by the Navy and currently the second highest. He was also awarded the Purple Heart.
"He is a local Naval hero according to all of us," said Waco Mayor Kyle Deaver. "We are very pleased to finally honor Dorie Miller the way he deserves to be honored."
When Miller enlisted in the Navy, African Americans were not allowed to serve in combat positions, which makes his story all the more compelling.
"To take care of his family he volunteered to join the U.S. Navy," said Bynum. "It was a different time, that was really only the opportunity he had in those days."
The Japanses attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii Dec. 7, 1941 where Miller and his ship, USS West Virginia (BB-48), were stationed. As a former football player and athletic Sailor he used his strength to help move wounded and ultimately manned an anti-aircraft machine gun to help fight the ship.
Even with no combat training, Miller was compelled to do whatever he could to save the ship and the lives of the Sailors aboard West Virginia.
"He manned a machine gun and countered fire, " said Bynum. "There is no greater example of heroism, frankly no better example of a Sailor doing what he or she has to do when called upon."
Most Waco natives believe that Miller truly is a hero.
"In a time of peril, he showed the outstanding courage to man a gun," said Heath Mynar, Waco police officer and reserve Master-at-Arms 1st Class. "I'm just amazed. For him to man a gun would certainly draw enemy attention, he didn't run from the fight, he ran into the fire and fought the ship."
Bynum said that there is no better honor as a Waco native himself, than to come back and commemorate Miller's heroics on that day.
"What an honor to acknowledge the legacy that we carry forward today from heroes just like Dorie Miller."
For more information on Waco Navy Week, visit http://outreach.navy.mil
For more information on Rear Adm. Jay Bynum, visit http://www.navy.mil/navydata/bios/navybio.asp?bioID=771