A Marine at the gates of heaven

By Ed Brock

The death of highly decorated Marine Gen. Raymond G. Davis was saluted in many ways at his funeral Monday.

By the raised hands of hundreds of Marines in full-dress uniform, by three echoing gunshots and by a lone military helicopter that swept low over Forest Lawn Memorial Gardens cemetery in College Park the passing of 88-year-old Davis was marked.

And also by the wailing bagpipes of one of Davis' hundreds of friends, Merritt Powell, adjutant general of the Scottish American Military Society, who said the highland bag pipe was the only instrument that could be heard in the other world.

"That the departed can hear them and know that they are lamented," Powell said.

Davis, who lived in Stockbridge, died Wednesday of a heart attack. His funeral service was held at Conyers First United Methodist Church where he was still a member.

Any number of important people joined Davis' wife of 62 years, Willa Knox Davis, and the rest of the Davis family to remember the man who served in three wars and was decorated for his performance in all of them. Gov. Sonny Perdue, Sen. Zell Miller, D-Georgia, Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Michael Hagee and a long list of VIPs were in the congregation.

One of them, Marine Gen. Robert Barrow, gave Davis' eulogy while Marine Col. Warren Wiedhahn read from the scriptures.

"Now the gates of heaven are truly guarded by the U.S. Marines," Wiedhahn said.

But also in the audience were hundreds of people touched by Davis in a day to day way, like Korean War veteran Thaddeus Sobieski of Atlanta who said he saw Davis just four days before his death.

"He's an honorable man, very humble," Sobieski said. "Like they said about Omar Bradley, he was a soldier's general. The men liked him."

Mike Breedlove of Breedlove Land Planning Inc. worked with Davis on the development of the Georgia Veterans Memorial Park in Conyers.

"I met him around town all the time and shook his hand when I could," Breedlove said. "He was a wonderful man."

Now 24, Colin Pearrel of Conyers also shook Davis' hand when Pearrel was in the ROTC program at Rockdale High School.

"We always admired him in the program and looked up to him," Pearrel said.

The greatness inside his father-in-law wasn't always evident past his humility, Dr. Wayne Kerr said about Davis during the service.

"If you were to pick the general out of a room of men dressed in civilian clothes Dad might be the very last one," Kerr said. "He has left his indomitable spirit not just on the face of history but on our hearts."

At the cemetery, Davis' casket was brought to the grave site by a horse-drawn carriage, escorted by the Marine Corps Band that played "Onward Christian Soldiers."

Davis was awarded the Navy Cross and the Purple Heart in 1944. He received the Medal of Honor from President Harry Truman, two Silver Stars, a Legion of Merit with Combat V and the Bronze Star in Korea in 1950.

Fifteen years later, Davis was awarded a second Legion of Merit and then, in 1968, the Republic of Vietnam awarded him the Distinguished Service Medal and three personal decorations from the Vietnamese government.

Davis was promoted to general in 1971 and retired the following year from the Marine Corps after more than 33 years of active duty. He was then awarded a Gold Star in lieu of a second Distinguished Service Medal.

Earlier this year, Davis received the Korea Society Van Fleet Award in recognition of the work he had done on behalf of the Korean people. In May, he was nominated by Sen. Miller and Rep. John Linder for the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award recognizing exceptional meritorious service.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.