Raymond Gilbert Davis
Engagements: • World War II (1941 - 1945)• Korean War (1950 - 1953)• Vietnam War (1960 - 1973)
Raymond Gilbert "Ray" Davis
The Early Years
Raymond Gilbert "Ray" Davis was born on 13 January 1915, in Fitzgerald, GA, the son of an Atlanta confectioner, Raymond Roy Davis and his wife, Zelma Tribby Davis. After his second-grade year, his family moved to Atlanta, GA.
There were no portraits containing epaulettes on the Davis' family walls because no relatives in Ray Davis' family wore a uniform. His first firearm was a 12-gauge shotgun for rabbits around the Chattahoochee River. A varsity wrestler at Atlanta Technical High School, he was assured a daily workout with a two-mile walk each way to school. His young reputation was polished by selection to the National Honor Society, and he was the best drill cadet in his high school Army Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps unit. Partial to the military, but not committed to soldiering as a career, Davis was attracted to ROTC because of its small monetary allowance and free uniform. He stayed with JROTC three years in high school.
While in college he was a member of the ROTC unit and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the U. S. Army Infantry Reserve. Later, he resigned his commission in the Army Reserve to accept appointment as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps on 27 June 1938. As he once told a friend, "I asked a recruiter if I could have some active duty time so I could eat." At the time, the military had some of the only jobs available.
Early Marine Corps Career 1939-1942
In June 1938, at the Philadelphia Navy Yard where the gleaming white cruiser USS Olympia (C-6) flagship of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry was docked, Second Lieutenant Davis entered The Basic School (TBS). Much later, after a long career, he recalled how in Philadelphia he was standing on the shoulders of giants.
Completing the training in February 1941, he was assigned to the 1st Antiaircraft Machine Gun Battery, 1st Marine Division at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He returned to the U.S. with the unit in April, and the following month was appointed Battery Executive Officer, serving in that capacity at Parris Island, SC, and Quantico, VA. He was promoted to First Lieutenant in August 1941. That September, he moved with the battery to the Marine Barracks, New River (later Camp Lejeune), NC. Upon his promotion to Captain in February 1942, he was named Battery Commander.
World War II
War did strike on 7 December 1941, in Pearl Harbor, HI. Davis was at New River, Camp Lejeune, commanding the 1st Antiaircraft Battery.
During World War II, he participated in the Guadalcanal -Tulagi landings; the capture and defense of Guadalcanal; the Eastern New Guinea and Cape Gloucester Campaigns; and the Peleliu operation.
"They were exciting times on Guadalcanal," Capt Davis wrote in his book, "The Story of Ray Davis." After that campaign, he was appointed Executive Officer of the 1st Special Weapons Battalion, 1st Marine Division. He was promoted to Major on 28 February 1943. In October of that year, Major Davis took over command of the battalion and served in that capacity at New Guinea and Cape Gloucester. In April 1944, while on Cape Gloucester, he was named Commanding Officer, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, 1st Marine Division.
Davis' baptismal fire may have been with antiaircraft gunners, but his heart was with the infantry. After the New Britain campaign, Major Davis approached Colonel Puller, commanding the First Marine Regiment, saying, "I've been in the special weapons business long enough, and I'd like to get into the infantry." Davis wrote, "Puller hired me on the spot to be his first battalion commander. Chesty was really a key in my career development through the years and without any design."
Although wounded during the first hour of the Peleliu landing, he refused evacuation to remain with his men; and, on one occasion, when heavy Marine casualties and the enemy's point-blank cannon fire had enabled the Japanese to break through, he personally rallied and led his men in fighting to reestablish defense positions. In October 1944, he returned to Pavuvu and was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. Returning to the U.S. in November 1944, LtCol Davis was assigned to Quantico as Tactical Inspector, Marine Corps Schools. He was named Chief of the Infantry Section, Marine Air-Infantry School, Quantico, in May 1945.
In July 1947, Davis returned to the Pacific area to serve with the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade on Guam. He was the 1st Brigade's Assistant Chief of Staff, G-3 (Operations and Training), until August 1948, and from then until May 1949, was Assistant Chief of Staff, G-4 (Logistics). Upon his return from Guam in May 1949, he was named Inspector-Instructor of the 9th Marine Corps Reserve Infantry Battalion in Chicago, IL. This put him with a brand of Marine for whom he developed a special respect-"Marines," he said, "with full civilian responsibilities, jobs and families, but bounding with esprit de corps. World War II was fought in the main by Reserves."
Summer training with the reservists at Camp Lejeune had put Davis with Col Homer L. "Litz the Blitz" Litzenberg. When the North Koreans overran the South, President Harry S. Truman sounded, "To arms." Commanding the Seventh Marine Regiment, Litzenberg offered LtCol Davis the 1st Battalion.
Davis said, "My second war thus began as my Reserve infantry battalion was ordered to Camp Pendleton [California]. I caught a plane and a milk train to Pendleton, arriving one August 1950 day about 0500 and was greeted by Colonel Litzenberg with: 'Where the hell've you been? You've got five days to gather 800 men to fill your battalion!'"
In mobile reserve, the battalion hit Inchon in September 1950, a few days after the invasion. The Marines honed skills attacking vacant hills on the way north to the Yalu River. Nevertheless, resistance to the advancing Marines grew. Intelligence officers and the higher headquarters finally admitted that the Chinese had crossed the Yalu from China. The Davis' battalion had just killed 600.
Word came from General of the Army Douglas MacArthur in Tokyo about a new enemy: the giant Communist Fourth Army, made up of four smaller armies. Davis leveled with his troops: there would be trouble. They would be outnumbered, but they were, after all, Marines. Yet, a corporal voiced: "There's a billion of them, and they can make more."
With Chinese carpeting the terrain, General MacArthur ordered U.N. troops to pull back. The 7th Marines, under Litzenberg, and the 5th Marines, commanded by LtCol Raymond L. Murray, were now in North Korea at a Chosin Reservoir backwater named Yudam-ni.
Chinese soldiers were firing blindly into the night, and as the battalion got closer to Fox Company, Davis ordered them not to return fire when fired upon so that they could keep their location secret. When his battalion got close enough to the surrounded Marines to be in danger of friendly fire, he gave the order to stop, take cover, and rest. At dawn Davis's battalion took the Chinese by surprise and fought their way in to the stranded company.
Davis climaxed the relief of Fox with a handshake. Then his battalion led Fox and the two regiments (5th and 7th) on the main supply route (MSR) to Headquarters, 1stMarDiv at Hagaru-ri. Then it was Davis, Puller, Litzenberg, Murray, MajGen Smith and the rest of the 1stMarDiv to fight to the sea. "It was retreat hell! We are just attacking in another direction," MajGen Smith said.
For his role in rescuing thousands of men, U.S. president Harry Truman presented Davis with the nation's highest decoration for heroism, the Medal of Honor, in a White House ceremony on 24 November 1952.
In addition to receiving the Medal of Honor for action during that period, he twice earned the Silver Star Medal for exposing himself to heavy enemy fire while leading and encouraging his men in the face of strong enemy opposition. He also received the Legion of Merit with Combat Valor Device for exceptionally meritorious conduct and professional skill in welding the 1st Battalion into a highly effective combat team. Later, as Executive Officer of the 7th Marines, from December 1950 to June 1951, LtCol Davis earned the Bronze Star Medal with Combat "V" for his part in rebuilding the regiment after the Chosin Reservoir campaign. He returned from Korea in June 1951 and, for him, the Korean War was over. He was ordered to Headquarters Marine Corps, Washington, DC, and there LtCol Davis served in the Operations Subsection, G-3, Division of Plans and Policies.
In February 1952, Davis took charge of the Operations Subsection, G-3, Division of Plans and Policies. In April 1953, he became Head of the Operations and Training Branch, G-3 Division. While serving in this capacity, he was promoted to Colonel in October 1953.
The following July, Davis attended the Special Weapons Employment Course, Fleet Training Center, Norfolk, VA, under instruction. In September 1954, he entered the Senior Course, Marine Corps Schools, Quantico. Upon completing the course in June 1955, he served consecutively as Assistant Director and, later, Director, of the Senior School. In October 1957, he was again transferred to Washington, DC, and served there as Assistant G-2, Headquarters Marine Corps, until August 1959.
In June 1960, Davis completed the course at the National War College in Washington, DC. Assigned next to Headquarters, United States European Command, in Paris, France, he served from July 1960 through June 1963, as Chief, Analysis Branch, J-2, Staff of the Commander-in-Chief, Europe. On 1 July 1963, he was promoted to Brigadier General while enroute to the U. S.
Brigadier General Davis' next assignment was in the Far East where he served as Assistant Division Commander, 3rd Marine Division, Fleet Marine Force, on Okinawa, from October 1963 to November 1964. During this period, he also performed additional duty as Commanding General, SEATO Expeditionary Brigade, EXLIGTAS, in the Philippines, during June 1964; and as Commanding General, 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade, in China Sea Contingency Operations, from 2 August to 16 October 1964.
In December 1964, he was assigned to Headquarters Marine Corps. He served as Assistant Director of Personnel until March 1965, then served as Assistant Chief of Staff, G-1, until March 1968. For his service in the latter capacity, he was awarded a second Legion of Merit. He was promoted to Major General in November 1966.
During Davis' career, he seemed to always move to the sound of the guns. After the Korean War, it wasn't long before the next action. This time he was a general officer, but it was once again in the Pacific. Ordered to the Republic of Vietnam, MajGen Davis served briefly as Deputy Commanding General, Provisional Corps, then became Commanding General, 3rd Marine Division.
MajGen Ray Davis saw it long before he commanded the 3dMarDiv. It was set in a static, permanently defensive position, which gave only the North Vietnamese Army liberty to maneuver. The McNamara Line barriers or strongpoints holding Marine battalions in fixed positions were designed to keep the enemy away. The Marines were tied down along that line.
For his service as Commanding General of the 3rd Marine Division from 22 May 1968 until 14 April 1969, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, and three personal decorations by the Vietnamese Government.
Upon his return to the U.S. in May 1969, he was assigned duty as Deputy for Education with additional duty as Director, Education Center, Marine Corps Development and Education Command, Quantic. After his promotion to Lieutenant General on 1 July 1970, he was reassigned duty as Commanding General, Marine Corps Development and Education Command.
On 23 February 1971, President Richard M. Nixon nominated LtGen Davis for appointment to the grade of general and assignment to the position of Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps. His nomination was confirmed by the Senate and he received his fourth star on assuming those duties on 12 March 1971. He served as Assistant Commandant until he retired from active duty on 31 March 1972, after more than 33 years with the Marine Corps.
Medal of Honor (Korea)
Rank and organization: Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Marine Corps commanding officer, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division (Reinforced). Place and Date: Vicinity Hagaru-ri, Korea, 1-4 December 1950.
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as commanding officer of the 1st Battalion, in action against enemy aggressor forces. Although keenly aware that the operation involved breaking through a surrounding enemy and advancing 8 miles along primitive icy trails in the bitter cold with every passage disputed by a savage and determined foe, Lt. Col. Davis boldly led his battalion into the attack in a daring attempt to relieve a beleaguered rifle company and to seize, hold, and defend a vital mountain pass controlling the only route available for 2 marine regiments in danger of being cut off by numerically superior hostile forces during their re-deployment to the port of Hungnam. When the battalion immediately encountered strong opposition from entrenched enemy forces commanding high ground in the path of the advance, he promptly spearheaded his unit in a fierce attack up the steep, ice-covered slopes in the face of withering fire and, personally leading the assault groups in a hand-to-hand encounter, drove the hostile troops from their positions, rested his men, and reconnoitered the area under enemy fire to determine the best route for continuing the mission. Always in the thick of the fighting Lt. Col. Davis led his battalion over 3 successive ridges in the deep snow in continuous attacks against the enemy and, constantly inspiring and encouraging his men throughout the night, brought his unit to a point within 1,500 yards of the surrounded rifle company by daybreak. Although knocked to the ground when a shell fragment struck his helmet and 2 bullets pierced his clothing, he arose and fought his way forward at the head of his men until he reached the isolated marines. On the following morning, he bravely led his battalion in securing the vital mountain pass from a strongly entrenched and numerically superior hostile force, carrying all his wounded with him, including 22 litter cases and numerous ambulatory patients. Despite repeated savage and heavy assaults by the enemy, he stubbornly held the vital terrain until the 2 regiments of the division had deployed through the pass and, on the morning of 4 December, led his battalion into Hagaru-ri intact. By his superb leadership, outstanding courage, and brilliant tactical ability, Lt. Col. Davis was directly instrumental in saving the beleaguered rifle company from complete annihilation and enabled the 2 marine regiments to escape possible destruction. His valiant devotion to duty and unyielding fighting spirit in the face of almost insurmountable odds enhance and sustain the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.
Navy Cross (WWII)
The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Raymond Gilbert Davis (0-5831), Major, U.S. Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism as Commanding Officer of the First Battalion, First Marines, FIRST Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese forces on Peleliu, Palau Islands from 15 to September 22, 1944. Although wounded during the first hour of landing, Major Davis refused evacuation to remain with his Battalion's assault elements in many hazardous missions. On one occasion, when large gaps occurred in our front lines as the result of heavy casualties, and his right flank company was disorganized by point-blank enemy cannon fire following a successful nine hundred yard penetration through heavily defended lines, he rallied and personally led combined troops into these gaps to establish contact and maintain hasty defensive positions for the remainder of the night. Despite many casualties from close-range sniper fire, he remained in the vicinity of the front lines, coordinating artillery and Naval gunfire support with such effect that several determined counterattacks were repulsed. His outstanding courage, devotion to duty and leadership were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
Medals and Awards
Medal of Honor
In 2003, General Davis was awarded the James A. Van Fleet Award by The Korea Society.
After retirement from the military in 1972, Davis became the Executive Vice President of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. Three years later he retired to Conyers, GA, where he became a land developer.
Davis dedicated his post-retirement life to tirelessly advocating for veterans, particularly the veterans of the Korean War, which he called "the Forgotten War." Davis served on the board for the construction of the Korean War Veterans Memorial, which was dedicated in July 1995 in Washington, DC.
General Raymond Gilbert "Ray" Davis died of a heart attack at the age of 88 on 3 September 2003. He is survived by his wife of 61 years, Willa Knox Davis (nee Heafner), a North Carolina teacher he married just before heading off to military glory in the Pacific. He also leaves behind sons Raymond Gilbert Davis Jr. of Covington, GA, and Gordon Miles Davis of Seminole, AL; daughter Willa Kerr of Stockbridge; and seven grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
Funeral and Burial
The funeral for General Davis was held at 2:00 p.m. Monday, 8 September 2003, at the First United Methodist Church in Conyers, GA. Interment was at Forest Lawn Memorial Gardens in College Park, GA.
As a measure of the esteem and honor in which he was, and is, held by the Marine Corps, his Funeral Detail and Honor Guard was commanded by the then-Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Michael W. Hagee.
The following excerpts are from various reports on the funeral, and those attending. Much of it is from a 9 September 2003, article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution written by staff reporter Bill Hendrick. Combined, they provide a good impression of the great esteem that people had for this 'gentle' warrior.
They trooped in past the flag-draped coffin containing the body of Gen. Raymond Gilbert Davis, clad in his beloved dress blues with the blue-ribboned Medal of Honor clasped tightly around his neck.
Many of the old Marines wore their dress uniforms too, including more than a dozen generals who traveled from Washington to pay final respects to the man who, until his death Wednesday at age 88, was the most decorated American alive.
White-haired men, some in wheelchairs and others holding canes, dabbed at tears as Davis was eulogized by retired Marine Gen. Robert Barrow, 81, who described Davis as "the finest man I've ever known, a Marine's Marine. I loved him," he said, choking with emotion.
More than 400 people packed the pews in the sanctuary and balcony of Davis' church, Conyers First United Methodist. Hundreds more watched the funeral on television screens set up in nearby churches and a city building.
Wayne Kerr, representing the family, thanked U.S. Sen. Zell Miller, who was in the first row of pews to the right of Gov. Sonny Perdue and the left of U.S. Rep. David Scott, for nominating Davis for the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and said the general "left an example few of us can follow."
Barrow joked that had Davis been alive in "the War Between the States, William Tecumseh Sherman would have never gotten into Atlanta."
Men who had known Davis during his service in World War II, the Korean War or in Vietnam brushed at tears when two young Marines walked in slowly and stood rigidly on each side of the coffin. One faced the casket, saluted, and bent over the body, carefully removing the Medal of Honor from Davis' neck and placing it on an 18-inch red velvet sheet, held by the other Marine.
They both saluted and marched out. The medals were transferred to a mahogany box and given to Davis' wife of 62 years, Knox Davis, at the grave site at Forest Lawn Memorial Gardens in College Park. The flag that had draped his coffin was presented to her by Gen. Michael Hagee, commandant of the Marine Corps. Seven riflemen fired a salute after the casket arrived, borne on a horse-drawn caisson.
Davis, who won the nation's highest medal for heroism at the Chosin Reservoir in bitterly cold conditions, was the most decorated Marine of his generation. He was one of three Georgians to receive the Medal of Honor in the Korean War. His chest full of awards also included the Navy Cross, the Marine's second highest decoration for valor, two Silver Stars and the Bronze Star with Combat Valor Device.
In his autobiography, Davis told how he led about 700 Marines into what some considered a suicide mission at Chosin. Told to hold a key mountain pass to relieve a stranded rifle company and open the way to the sea for two Marine regiments, Davis led his men through eight miles of icy terrain against overwhelming Chinese forces. Davis said a sheen of ice covered his face and the bodies of all of his men. Davis was wounded in the fighting, which lasted from 1 to 5 December 1950.
The general also led a division in the Vietnam War, then retired in 1972 as Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps he joined in the 1930s.
A native of Fitzgerald in South Georgia, Davis graduated from Tech High School in Atlanta and Georgia Tech. He spent his last years living in Conyers, still active when he died. He spoke often to schoolchildren and had been scheduled to make a speech Monday in Marietta.
The church was full of veterans from all branches of the military. Tommy Clack of Conyers was there in his wheelchair. He lost three limbs in Vietnam. Also there were frail men who ran up and down icy hills with Davis in Korea in December 1950. Two other Medal of Honor winners were in the church: retired Marine Maj. Gen. Jim Livingston, 64, who made the trip from New Orleans, and Harvey Barnum, Assistant Secretary of the Navy.
Mack Abbott, head of the Atlanta chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, led a half-dozen members of his organization, to which Davis was scheduled to speak on 27 September.
"I loved that man, I always did," said Abbott, holding the hand of his wife, Alice. "He was the greatest Marine in history."
That was a common refrain from veterans of other nationalities, too. A contingent of South Korean Marines sat in silence in an adjacent auditorium. Louis Lin, 72-year-old chairman of the Republic of China Veterans Association in Atlanta, was spokesman for a half dozen members of his group, which he stressed represented Taiwan, not Communist China.
"General Davis came to us on August 30 and made a speech," Lin said. "It was his last speech in public. He was our hero."
When the funeral ended, Hagee walked just behind the casket as it was carried by seven young Marines to a white Cadillac hearse. Marines lined both sides of the street, saluting as the casket was placed inside. As the hearse inched away, Boy Scouts saluted, as did elderly residents of Conyers.
"We're all just overwhelmed," said Miles Davis, one of the general's sons. Miles Davis, 57, was wounded twice in Vietnam. His Purple Hearts were pinned on by his father. "We knew he had a lot of friends," he said Monday, "but we had no idea how many and how strongly they felt about him."
Members of a group called the Chosin Few (for the place Davis made famous) drove long distances to honor him.
Comments About the General
Harry Bruce, 75, who was a Marine Sergeant in those "terribly cold days," at Chosin Reservoir in Korea, the action for which Davis was awarded the Medal of Honor, said driving from Conroe, TX, was the least he could do. "Thanks to General Davis, a lot of people are alive today who wouldn't have been had it not been for him," he said.
"He was the last of the generals, the last of the old breed." -- Retired Marine Master Sgt. Eric English of Blairsville
"I always enjoyed shaking his hand because I knew I was touching greatness." -- Mike Breedlove, a Conyers land planner working with a veterans foundation on a memorial to Georgia veterans
"He told you exactly what he thought. But, hell, he earned the right." -- Warren Park, Marine veteran who knew Davis through a Henry County VFW post
"I loved that man, I always did. He was the greatest Marine in history." -- Mack Abbott, head of the Atlanta chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association
Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue called Davis a "leader during my campaign and an adviser in my administration" and said he will order flags at half-staff Monday, the day of Davis' funeral.
Past Comments from Peers
Brigadier General Edwin H. Simmons, USMC (Ret), Director Emeritus, Marine Corps History and Museums, described Davis as "the greatest tactician of the Marine Corps in modern times."
General Robert H. Barrow, 27th Commandant of the Marine Corps, said Davis was "a division commander without a peer." As a colonel, Gen Barrow had been chosen by then-Major General Davis to execute Operation Dewey Canyon.
Past Comments from the General
When Harry Truman awarded Davis the Medal of Honor for leading the rescue of a stranded Marine rifle company in a freezing North Korea mountain pass in 1950, the president remarked, "I'd rather have this medal than be president." Davis said he wasn't inclined to swap.
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