A veteran of World War II (1941-45) and the Korean (1950-53) and Vietnam (1964-73) wars, Raymond G. Davis is one of the most renowned modern military leaders from Georgia. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1952 for his extraordinary strategy and leadership during the Korean War at the Chosin Reservoir in November-December 1950. In his career of more than thirty-three years as a marine, Davis was also decorated with the Navy Cross, two Silver Stars, two Distinguished Service Medals, two Legions of Merit, the Purple Heart, and numerous other national and international military awards. At the time of his retirement as a four-star general in 1972, he was the assistant commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps.
The son of Zelma Tribby Davis and Raymond Roy Davis, Raymond Gilbert Davis was born in Fitzgerald on January 13, 1915. After his second-grade year, his family moved to Atlanta, where he graduated from high school in 1933 and from the Georgia Institute of Technology, with honors, in 1938. An Army ROTC cadet at Georgia Tech, he chose the marine corps for his career. In September 1944 he received the Navy Cross for his heroism as a battalion commander during the assault on Japanese forces entrenched on the Pacific island of Peleliu.
When the Korean conflict began with North Korea’s invasion of South Korea in 1950, Davis, by then a lieutenant colonel, was sent to Camp Pendleton, California, and given the task of recruiting an 800-man battalion in five days, which he accomplished. The First Battalion of the Seventh Marines, First Marine Division, was sent immediately to South Korea via troop ship. On the way he trained and drilled his men constantly to prepare them for battle. By the time they landed at Inchon, General Douglas MacArthur’s strategy to destroy and drive back the North Korean forces was already producing excellent results.
Thus Davis’s unit saw little conflict until MacArthur ordered the invasion of North Korea. The Fifth and Seventh regiments were to go north through the Toktong Pass to secure the Chosin Reservoir and then proceed farther north to the Yalu River, the border with China. In bitterly cold weather the regiments fought their way up existing roads until they reached the Chosin Reservoir, where in late November they were surrounded by more than 125,000 Chinese soldiers in a counterinvasion. For several days they were pinned down in fierce fighting with the Chinese. Fox Company, a small force that had been left behind at the Toktong Pass, was also surrounded and under heavy fire. As the crisis escalated, Davis came up with a plan: he proposed to leave everything his marines could not carry, break through the enemy lines, and journey east all night through the high mountains to come around behind the enemy soldiers surrounding the unit at the Toktong Pass. The two regiments, meanwhile, would break out and take the main route up which they had come.
Davis’s First Battalion left their jeeps and loaded mortars and rounds on stretchers. They packed food close to their bodies to keep it from freezing in temperatures around 30 degrees below zero. Then they broke through the Chinese lines to the east of the camp and headed through the mountains, 800 men trudging in single file through knee-deep snow. 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. Then they proceeded to take the Toktong Pass away from enemy forces, opening it for the Fifth and Seventh regiments to get through. After the battle the regiments made their way southward to safety. For his role in rescuing thousands of men, U.S. president Harry Truman presented Davis with the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1952.
Vietnam and Postmilitary Career
Davis returned to conflict during the war in Vietnam (1964-73), where as major general he served as deputy commander and then commander of the Third Marine Division. Then he returned to the United States, earning his third and fourth stars and serving as assistant commandant of the marine corps. Upon 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, where he became a land developer. Davis served on the board for the construction of the Korean War Veterans Memorial, which was dedicated in July 1995 in Washington, D.C.
Davis died on September 3, 2003, at the age of eighty-eight. He was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Gardens in College Park.