Three War Marine Hero Cover

Three War Marine Hero

General Raymond G. Davis

Richard D. Camp Jr.

Casemate, Havertown, Pennsylvania, 2020, 264 pages

Book Review published on: November 5, 2021

Author Richard D. Camp Jr. writes a compelling biography of U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Raymond G. Davis’s distinguished career as a war hero, leader, and Marine visionary. Camp writes from a unique perspective having served as Davis’s aide-de-camp in country during the Vietnam War. Three War Marine Hero was years in the making. It depicts the author’s firsthand observations, conversations, and interviews with Davis, as well as historical military records/documents. The author further sources historical/scholarly books, oral histories, and firsthand accounts of those having served with him—from troops to general officers, including the likes of legendary Marine warrior Col. Lewis “Chesty” Puller.

The author begins with Davis’s humble Georgia upbringing and the happenstance that led to his Marine Corps commission as a second lieutenant after his first appointment as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve. Within a few years of his commission, he met and married the love of his life Willa Knox Heavener, who played a prominent role throughout his military career. Without her unwavering support, Capt. Davis would have left the Marine Corps long before there ever was a Gen. Davis.

Subsequent chapters address Davis’s heroics in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, and this is further addressed is his interwar years. Smartly crafted and woven into the stories of his extraordinary valor during each of these wars are the detailed contextual events leading up to and through his conduct during the related battles/campaigns. What is noteworthy about these accounts are the inclusive stories of these events, many provided by the individuals that played prominently in making them historic.

The author first details what then Capt. Davis experienced when he was assigned to 1st Marine Division-going from a shell of a division in December 1941 to a full combat division by May 1942. He notes the trials and tribulations of training, equipping, and billeting the massive onslaught of Marines preparing for the Pacific Campaign. Particularly concerning to him was the early deployment of a provisional brigade for immediate service in the South Pacific and the general lack of adequate combat training prior to 1st Marine Division’s assault on Guadalcanal.

Capt. Davis first fought as an antiaircraft battery commander on Guadalcanal in August 1942. Highlighted throughout the Battle for Guadalcanal was the intrepid ingenuity and resolve of Davis and the other Marines who fought there. Marines overcame a shortage of naval ships, planes, and supplies. By mid-November, the Marines were no longer capable of conducting offensive operations. At one point, ground forces were authorized to surrender if needed. This dire situation eventually turned for the better with the arrival of more ground forces and supplies beginning later that month.

Thereafter, he served in ever-increasing commander capacities throughout the Pacific Campaign-ending with the battle for Peleliu in September 1944. Leading up to the battle of Peleliu, newly promoted Maj. Davis resigned from his special weapons battalion commander appointment to become the battalion commander of 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, under the regimental command of Puller. The battle of Peleliu is regarded as one of the Marine Corps’ bloodiest battles in its illustrious history. During the fight, Davis’s battalion lost 71 percent of its personnel strength, including all of its platoon leaders in the first four days following the amphibious assault. Although wounded during the first hour of the amphibious landing, Davis remained in command leading his battalion throughout the fight. He was subsequently awarded the Navy Cross for exemplary leadership and courage in leading his battalion throughout the intense fight for the island.

The author then superbly details major operational phases and battles/events of the Korean War to bring context to the circumstances leading up to Lt. Col. Davis’s later heroics during the battle of the Chosin Reservoir. As commanding officer, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, he led his battalion through a hostile surrounding enemy of greater force, extreme cold temperatures, augmented by snow and ice, in order to relieve a company defending a critical mountain pass. The company was on the brink of annihilation. If the pass was not secured, two Marine regiments would have been cut off on their redeployment to the city of Hungnam by a far greater enemy force. For his “superb leadership, outstanding courage and brilliant tactical ability,” Davis was awarded the Medal of Honor.

During the Vietnam War, now Maj. Gen. Davis took command of 3rd Marine Division, in Dong Ha, Vietnam, where he commanded from May 1968 until April 1969. His tour in Vietnam was discernable by his insistence on high quality commanders leading Marines, his concept of high-mobility combat forces (leveraging rotary wing aviation assets), and pacification—winning over the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people.

Between and after wars Davis’s experiences were utilized in teaching and commanding educational institutions, culminating in his appointment as the director of Marine Corps Development and Education Command. In March 1971, he was nominated and confirmed for his fourth star, becoming assistant commandant of the Marine Corps. He retired in 1972 after thirty-four years of distinguished service.

Camp writes an awe-inspiring book of a humble and unsung Marine war hero—a national treasure-who gave his absolute all in the service to his country, the Marine Corps, and his Marines. These facts come across clearly in substantive depth throughout the book. It is historically accurate and crafted in such a way that unmistakably brings Davis’s heroics to light and life for the reader. The descriptive details of events and people wedded to them make for a riveting, inspiring, and evocative read. Writing achievement to this degree could only be accomplished through diligent/painstaking research and attentive firsthand storied accounts. The author unequivocally accomplished his writing objective. Davis is truly a leader, war hero, and Marine visionary who deserves our unwavering respect and admiration.

This book is superb read for military leaders of all ranks/services and military historians. It is also a noteworthy read for government and private sector leaders seeking a better appreciation and different perspective on leadership, selfless service, self-sacrifice, and the role of the leader-servant.

Book Review written by: Dr. David A. Anderson, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas