Commander George F. Davis, USN (January 6, 1945)

As a member of the United States Naval Academy class of 1934, George Fleming Davis assuredly learned the immortal words of Captain James Lawrence of the frigate USS Chesapeake in 1813: “Don’t give up the ship!”

Davis was born on March 23, 1911 in Manila, the Philippines. His first service with the fleet was on destroyers. In mid-1941 he was promoted to Lieutenant and posted to the battleship USS Oklahoma (BB-37). In the opening moments of the United States in World War II, Davis had to give up his ship as she capsized and sank from multiple strikes from Japanese torpedoes at Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. Oklahoma took 429 of her more than 1,300 crew with her.

Davis was then assigned to the light cruiser USS Honolulu (CL-48) and participated in many of the major Pacific campaigns from 1942-1944, received promotions to Lieutenant Commander and Commander, and was decorated with Legion of Merit.

In November 1944, Davis was given command of the Allen M. Sumner-class destroyer USS Walke (DD-723). In the first days of his command, and on the third anniversary of Pearl Harbor, he was awarded the Silver Star. Just several weeks later on January 6, 1945, the Walke sailed into the Philippines’ Lingayen Gulf to escort minesweepers clearing the way for the imminent invasion of Luzon.

Davis’ ship was targeted by four Japanese kamikaze aircraft. The Walke‘s guns under Davis’ direction beat away two of the attackers, but the third made it through and impacted near the destroyer’s bridge. Davis was struck by shrapnel and showered with burning gasoline. Despite his life-threatening wounds and burns, he remained in command as his sailors shot down another suicide plane and until he was assured that the Walke would survive to fight another day.

He would not give up his ship, and was posthumously decorated with the Medal of Honor for his courage in command.

From Medal of Honor Citations for World War II (A-F):

Medal of Honor ribbon (foreground); World War II Asiatic-Pacific Campaign ribbon (background)
Medal of Honor ribbon (foreground); World War II Asiatic-Pacific Campaign ribbon (background)
Photo: Military Times’ Hall of Valor

*DAVIS, GEORGE FLEMING

Rank and organization: Commander, U.S. Navy. Other Navy awards: Silver Star Medal, Legion of Merit

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life and beyond the call of duty as Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. Walke engaged in a detached mission in support of minesweeping operations to clear the waters for entry of our heavy surface and amphibious forces preparatory to the invasion of Lingayen Gulf, Luzon, Philippine Islands, 6 January 1945. Operating without gun support of other surface ships when 4 Japanese suicide planes were detected flying low overland to attack simultaneously, Comdr. Davis boldly took his position in the exposed wings of the bridge and directed control to pick up the leading plane and open fire. Alert and fearless as the Walke’s deadly fire sent the first target crashing into the water and caught the second as it passed close over the bridge to plunge into the sea of portside, he remained steadfast in the path of the third plane plunging swiftly to crash the after end of the bridge structure. Seriously wounded when the craft struck, drenched with gasoline and immediately enveloped in flames, he conned the Walke in the midst of the wreckage; he rallied his command to heroic efforts; he exhorted his officers and men to save the ship and, still on his feet, saw the barrage from his guns destroy the fourth suicide bomber. With the fires under control and the safety of the ship assured, he consented to be carried below. Succumbing several hours later, Comdr. Davis by his example of valor and his unhesitating self-sacrifice, steeled the fighting spirit of his command into unyielding purpose in completing a vital mission. He gallantly gave his life in the service of his country.

From Military Times’ Hall of Valor, here are Commander Davis’ earlier citations for the Silver Star and the Legion of Merit.

SilverStar-200pxThe President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Silver Star (Posthumously) to Commander George Fleming Davis (NSN: 0-73637), United States Navy, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity as Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. WALKE (DD-416), in action against the enemy during important operations in Ormoc Bay, Leyte, Philippine Islands, on 7 December 1944. Commander Davis, during the shore bombardment, neutralization of enemy shore defenses and units by gunfire, and during a prolonged and heavy engagement with enemy aircraft, fought his ship with the highest skill and courage. When the U.S.S. MAHAN was struck by three enemy planes and damaged beyond possibility of salvage, Commander Davis proceeded to the scene, and despite immediate danger from heavy enemy air attacks and the explosion of magazines in the flaming MAHAN, succeeded in rescuing from the water all of the personnel of the U.S.S. MAHAN with the exception of one officer and five men who were evidently lost when the U.S.S. MAHAN was hit. Later while screening the retiring convoy, the U.S.S. WALKE gave an outstanding exhibition of anti-aircraft gunnery against enemy planes attempting to bomb and crash our ships, which aided materially in bringing down at least fourteen planes. The courageous conduct of Commander Davis was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

LegionOfMerit-200pxThe President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Legion of Merit with Combat “V” (Posthumously) to Commander George Fleming Davis (NSN: 0-73637), United States Navy, for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services to the Government of the United States as First Lieutenant and Damage Control Officer of the U.S.S. HONOLULU (CL-48) in action against the enemy. He participated in eleven operations and engagements from Kiska to Guam. He was an exceptional officer of the deck and served as such in all actions. By excellent organization, thorough training and indoctrination, his department successfully met every emergency and contributed in large measure to the highly successful accomplishment of his ship. His conduct throughout distinguished him among those performing similar duties.

Commander Davis was buried at sea by his shipmates. His name appears on the Tablets of the Missing along with 36,284 other Americans at the Manila American Cemetery.

The Walke did indeed survive to fight another day and also participated in the battle for Okinawa. The ship served with the United States Navy until her decommissioning on November 30, 1970.

The Navy honored their fallen hero by naming the Forrest Sherman-class destroyer USS Davis (DD-937) in his memory. The Davis served from February 1957-December 1982.

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