Editor’s Note: This is the second part of a two-part look at Four Star Marine Gen. Ray Davis, whose distinguished service encompassed three wars.
In World War II, Ray Davis survived Guadalcanal and the horrific close-quarters combat on Peleliu. When North Korea invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950, Davis was off to his second war. He’d received a call from Col. Homer Litzenberg, commander of the 1st Marine Regiment.
Litzenberg told Lt. Col. Davis, "Get on a train to Pendleton, Ray; Marine reservists are wandering all over the base. Form up a battalion."
At Pendleton Davis recruited, if not shanghaied, officers of lesser rank. Then they set about with trucks to recruit, if not shanghai, unassigned Marines.
As commander of the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, Davis and his band of shanghaied Marines set sail for Korea after very limited training. The men sharpened their marksmanship by shooting at targets off the fantail of the ship.
After participating in Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s rear area entrapment called the Inchon landing, Davis and his Marines were pulled out and shipped to the eastern side of Korea. MacArthur wanted the Marines to push north, toward the Chosin Reservoir. The Marines were skeptical, thus proceeding with caution.
Sporadic contact with Chinese forces built in intensity. MacArthur, from his headquarters in Japan, disregarded reports of Chinese troops.
Nearing the reservoir, thereafter remembered as the "Frozen Chosin," up to 100,000 Chinese attacked the Marine positions at Yudam-ni and Hagaru-ni. Marines of Fox Company were surrounded and trapped at an important junction called Toktong Pass.
Litzenberg gave Davis and his Marines the impossible task of relieving Fox Company. Litzenberg was reported as saying, "When I shook hands with Ray and wished him luck, I knew it would be the last time I saw him alive."
Davis led his Marines, not down the Chinese-controlled road, but over three treacherous ridgelines, fighting the stunned Chinese en route.
Davis’ son, Miles, related his father’s exploits: "The temperature hovered around 30 degrees below zero, with a 60 mph wind. Dad tried to use his compass, but it was no good in the freezing cold. He’d jump into bomb craters, cover himself with a rain poncho or blanket, then use a flashlight to take his bearings from the compass.
"Once out of the bomb crater, it was so cold he couldn’t remember which direction to march. So he pulled an officer into the bomb crater with him, got his bearings again, then told the officer where to stand outside the crater. Emerging from the crater, Dad looked where the officer was standing and told his men, ‘We’re heading that way.’"
Marine Gen. O.P. Smith said of the retreat from the Frozen Chosin, "We’re not retreating. We’re attacking from a different direction."
All night long in the bitter cold, Davis and his invincible Marines "attacked from a different direction."
Marines froze, Marines died, but Davis and his
resolute heroes reached and relieved Fox Company at the Toktong Pass. They became known as the "ridge runners of Toktong Pass," and no Marine was left behind, even if six Marines had to man one stretcher.
Davis’ boss, Col. Litzenberg, was a tough, no-nonsense WWII battle-hardened Marine. When the news arrived that Ray Davis and his intrepid Marines had relieved Fox Company, Litzenberg wept.
Davis and his battalion of supermen straightened themselves and their gear, then marched as Marines into the harbor town of Hungnam for evacuation. On Nov. 24, 1952, President Harry S. Truman presented the Medal of Honor to Lt. Colonel Ray Davis.
In October 1953, Davis was promoted to full colonel. By the time he arrived in Vietnam for his third war in March 1968, he wore the two stars of a major general.
As commanding general, 3rd Marine Division, Davis noted the normally aggressive fighting skills of the Marines were bottled-up in defensive positions. Davis moved them out to engage the enemy. Under his leadership, the North Vietnamese were continually harried without mercy.
Davis stayed airborne in his chopper, visiting his Marines and organizing the fighting. One standing order he issued: Whatever the cost, the closest chopper lands to help wounded or stranded Marines.
Davis’ chopper always flew at treetop level. He was in the field every day visiting his Marines, landing places he shouldn’t have been, talking to his officers, leading from the front and not from the rear.
In February 1969, during Operation Dewey Canyon, Davis landed at a regimental command post to converse with the commanding officer. Advised that three wounded Marines were awaiting evacuation, Davis ordered that the Marines be put aboard his chopper. Among them was his son, Marine Lt. Miles Davis.
Miles said, "Dad flew us to the nearest medical facility. That’s the way he was, a Marine to the very core of his bones." Lt. Davis was wounded twice in Vietnam.
He recalled, "After Dad pinned the second Purple Heart on me, he pointed his finger in my face and said, ‘Don’t do this again, Lieutenant, and that’s an order.’ Dad was a two-star general, so the only thing I could say was, ‘yes, sir’."
One of the most decorated Leathernecks in Marine Corps history, Four Star Gen. Ray Davis retired on March 31, 1972. He passed from this life on Sept. 3, 2003, at age 88.
Remarkably, Ray Davis never pulled his pistol in combat and never fired one round at an enemy combatant. He often told his sons, "If I had to pull my pistol we’d already be dead. My job was to be sure my Marines didn’t die in vain."
He also said, "I have the easiest job in the world. I just tell teenagers with rifles where to shoot."
I offer my deepest appreciation to Ray Davis Jr., Miles Davis, and Willa Davis Kerr for their heartfelt contributions. I was truly honored to add in some small way to the respectful memory of the few, the proud, and one hell of a Marine.
Pete Mecca is a Vietnam veteran, columnist and freelance writer. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or aveteransstory.us.