This is the first part of a two-part look at the life of Gen. Ray Davis. The second part will be in next week’s Veteran’s Story.
The young chopper pilot had a cushy job flying VIPs and high-ranking officers to and from relatively secured locations in South Vietnam. His required altitude was 5,000 feet.
He had not been in combat nor ever dodged anti-aircraft fire.
This mission was no different: transporting a Marine general from Da Nang to Saigon for another big-shot meeting.
Suddenly the radio crackled with activity. Marines engaged in a nearby firefight had taken casualties and were in desperate need of med evac.
But the Army pilot had his strict orders: Do not endanger passengers to assist ground combatants.
Then he felt a hand grip his shoulder. The passenger, a two-star Marine general, motioned thumbs-down, meaning land the chopper to assist those Marines.
A lieutenant cannot argue with two stars. As the chopper neared an all-out battle, the general leaped from the Huey before the landing skids touched earth.
From his pilot’s seat, the lieutenant watched the two-star general direct and help load wounded Marines aboard the chopper as bullets chewed the ground and shells detonated close by.
However, with all the wounded safely aboard, there was no room for the general.
Unbelievably and against regulations, the general was standing on the landing skids and ordered the pilot to "dust-off’"and head for the closest medical facility. Against all established orders, the pilot jeopardized his aircraft and crew to save the wounded Marines. He flew to the nearest medical unit with a two-star general hanging on from the outside.
Approaching the medical facility, the general once again jumped from the chopper before the landing skids touched ground.
He summoned medical personnel and helped unload the wounded. Then the general jumped back into the blood-soaked bay and told the pilot to proceed to Saigon.
The pilot, already scared out of his wits from the audacious rescue and believing he was transporting a madman, happily continued to Saigon. Once on the ground in Saigon the general bid adieu and left to attend his meeting.
Judging his military career over with Leavenworth Penitentiary his next port-of-call, the lieutenant reported to his commanding officer with the graphic details of how he had disregarded every command he had ever been issued by the United States Army. When asked the identity of his passenger, the lieutenant replied, "General Ray Davis, sir."
The lieutenant was told not to worry. Gen. Ray Davis was known as a Marine combat officer who always took care of his Marines.
Besides, the lieutenant was told, just be glad you’re still alive.
An attentive father and principled man of God, Raymond Gilbert "Ray" Davis led the Boy Scouts, coached Little League baseball, and taught the ladies Sunday school class at 1st United Methodist Church in Conyers. A doting grandpa, he happily changed diapers, attended make-believe tea parties, and even learned how to dress Barbie dolls.
A passionate supporter of veterans and related causes, Ray Davis spoke whenever and wherever requested on a first asked, first accepted basis.
Speaking fees were non-negotiable: Davis never accepted one red cent. He served veterans as he had served his country, without question and without fear.
A 1938 top graduate of Georgia Tech in chemical engineering and Army ROTC, Davis faced unreliable employment during the Great Depression.
On the other hand, the rumor mill had the U.S. Marine Corps accepting qualified males for officer training. Davis probed the rumor and made his decision: He resigned his commission in the Army Reserves and received an appointment as a Marine second lieutenant in June 1938.
The Marines kept Davis busy for the next 33 years. He fought in three wars, received the Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, two Navy Distinguished Service Medals, two Silver Stars, three Combat Action Ribbons and the Purple Heart, among others. He retired on March 31, 1972, as Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps having obtained the rank of four-star general.
A remarkable life worthy of a novel, General Davis’ incredible feats as a United States Marine will be respectfully offered in this narrative.
After completing Officer’s Basic School at the Philadelphia Navy Yard in May 1939, Davis served with the Marine Detachment aboard the USS Portland in the Pacific.
At Quantico and Aberdeen he received weapons and artillery training during the summer of 1940 before deployment to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. At the time of Pearl Harbor, Davis had moved to New River, N.C. (later called Camp Lejeune).
Promoted to captain in February 1942, his next port-of-call was a disease-ridden island in the South Pacific called Guadalcanal.
Davis played a part in the Guadalcanal-Tulagi landings; saw combat on Guadalcanal; achieved the rank of major in February 1943; took command of the 1st Special Weapons Battalion, 1st Marine Division, in October of that year; and remained on Guadalcanal for six months.
Sent to refit in either New Zealand or Australia, Davis ran into another Marine legend, Gen. Lewis "Chesty" Puller.
Davis told Puller he specialized in heavy weapons but actually wanted the infantry. He asked Puller for a job.
Puller gave Davis the battalion commander’s position of the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines.
Next stop: the hell called Peleliu.
Wounded in combat
His oldest son, Ray Davis Jr., said of his father’s experience on Peleliu: "Dad went ashore on Peleliu with 1,150 Marines in his battalion. In four days they were down to 350. Dad called Peleliu ‘the most God awful mess’ he’d ever seen."
Davis was wounded in the first hour of combat but refused evacuation. When "Chesty" Puller, in bad shape himself, heard that Davis had been wounded, he ordered stretcher bearers to carry him to Davis’ position.
Davis, with a bullet hole in his knee and not wanting to be relieved, ran under heavy fire to greet Puller so as to prove still fit for combat. Puller conceded, and Davis returned to his men.
The Japanese were dug into well-designed fighting positions; Marine casualties mounted. Davis refused to yield ground. At one point the Japanese fired cannons at point blank range, then penetrated 900 yards into Davis’ right flank. The right flank became disorganized and in need of leadership. Davis took control. He rallied his men and led a counter-attack that re-took the position.
Then the Marines hunkered down for the night with enemy snipers firing from close range. Davis stayed on the front lines, calling in artillery and Navy gunfire that annihilated several counterattacks by the Japanese.
His leadership and bravery under fire earned Major Davis our country’s second highest award, the Navy Cross.
Returning to the 1st Marine Division’s temporary home on the island of Pavuvu, Davis was promoted to lieutenant colonel.
He returned to the United States in November 1944 and held several positions at Quantico, on the island of Guam, assistant chief of staff in Operations and Training and Logistics, and was inspector-instructor of the 9th Marine Corps Reserve Infantry Battalion in Chicago at the outbreak of the Korean War.
In the frozen wastelands of Korea, Lt. Col. Ray Davis’ training, intuition, and natural leadership would save thousands of Marines and earn him the Medal of Honor.
Pete Mecca is a Vietnam veteran, columnist and freelance writer. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or aveteransstory.us.