Jim Thorpe WWII veteran recalls service as community offers praise

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Feb. 21—JIM THORPE — After 75 years, some of William H. Davis' World War II memories have faded or are lost to time, but others are as vivid as the day they happened.

He enlisted in the U.S. Army at 19, but would have gone sooner. A bout of spinal meningitis kept him back a year.

Davis felt a duty to his country, serving in the 53rd Armored Infantry Battalion attached to the 4th Armored Division under Gen. George S. Patton from 1944 to 1946.

"I wanted to go," the 95-year-old Jim Thorpe native said. "You know, in America, everyone has the same chance. Over in Germany, and in other countries, the little man has no chance.

"If I had to go into the service again, I would go," he said from his Center Avenue home, where he has lived for the past 51 years. "I wouldn't hesitate."

Davis was honored earlier this month for his service by the Carbon County commissioners and the American Legion in Jim Thorpe, where he has been a member for 75 years, at a ceremony at Diligent Fire Co. No. 3, across from his home.

Commissioner Chris Lukasevich, a retired Army colonel and Green Beret, said he felt humbled as he honored a man, who like his father and three uncles, served in WWII.

In addition to the resolution from the commissioners, Lukasevich presented Davis with his After Action Reports for his battalion and a photo plaque commemorating his service and others who served in the Second World War.

Christine LeClair, county director of Veterans Affairs, feels it's one of the highlights of her job being able to recognize and honor these veterans, many of whom never spoke of their service to their loved ones.

"These veterans went on to raise families and hold down full-time jobs, often only reminiscing about their service within the four walls of the American Legion," she said. "It wasn't until my grandfather passed away that I learned of his Bronze Star and just recently I was shocked to learn that a neighbor from my childhood was a POW and Silver Star recipient.

"It is so sad that the history of these brave warriors is lost when they pass away," LeClair said, adding that while they may not want to talk about their time in the military, they appreciate the recognition.

Davis was among those who didn't talk about the war, because of the horrors he experienced, said his son, William J., who is a also a veteran.

The elder Davis put things plainly, "No war is nice."

Davis remembers shipping out on the massive Queen Elizabeth and crossing the Atlantic Ocean to serve in the Central Europe Campaign.

He remembers the fear — a fear that has never left him — even after nearly eight decades.

"You know, you're scared," he said, recalling the first night he got to sleep in a bed after being on the move, and they came under attack.

"You live or you die, that's how it is," Davis said. "It always comes back to me."

One night, his company boarded rubber boats to cross a river — as they always seemed to move at night — and they ended up scattered with the Germans' "screaming mimis," artillery shells, high overhead.

"You had to look for shelter anywhere you could find it," Davis said. "We hid out in the cellar. I could see out this little window. The German soldiers were running. The American soldiers were running.

"One of my friends got hit," he said somberly. "I never knew whether he lived or died. I know this, when you're there, if you don't like the guy next to you, he's you're friend anyway."

Front line soldiers kept each other alive, and were always headed toward the next fight or where they were needed, Davis said.

"Any front line soldier knows they have to work together," he said, "Or they have a chance of not going home."

An Army captain told him early on that his duty was "beat the enemy and beat them down," he said.

His job? "Have a rifle and use it."

The other guy, the enemy, also had rifles and other guns.

"I saw so many guys who were hit. Quite a few killed," Davis recalled. "We had one fella with us. I didn't know him too well. He was a young guy. He was only there one day," he said. "He was shot and killed."

Davis witnessed true bravery in a medic who served with him. He didn't carry a rifle, but he was on the front line with them, he said.

"I never saw such a strong man," he said. "A good man. He stayed with those guys. He was killed too ... later on."

The scariest times, though, were when the tanks and half-tracks in his company weren't moving, Davis said.

"You didn't know what was coming in at you," he said.

They weren't always fighting, Davis said. There were days off, when they were low on ammunition or needed supplies before pushing on.

Celebration ensued in Czechoslovakia upon hearing of the cease fire, Davis said, and his company remained there for several weeks before re-entering Germany.

"As far as Germany, I liked Germany as a country," he said. "Very nice. We were treated pretty good after the war ended."

His most vivid memory was coming home and his freighter entering New York's harbor very early in the morning.

"When we came back to New York ... the guys were lined up along the railings, looking to see the lights of New York City," Davis said. "I can see them yet. It was early morning. It was dark ... dusk. I was so happy to know it was New York."

Davis came home in August 1946, and married the former Lorraine F. Yeakel a little more than a year later. They were together for 55 years and had three children before her passing in 2003.

He is an active lifetime member of the American Legion Post 304, and holds memberships with the Veterans of Foreign Wars and Disabled American Veterans.

Davis didn't know that he was going to be honored, and was a little upset by the fuss, saying he never asked for the recognition.

"It shouldn't be for one," he said. "It should be for everyone who are living."

His son, William, however, said he looked up to and admired his father and wanted to see him honored for all that he gave his country.

His father, though, can't help but look back at all those who gave their life for their country.

"So many died," Davis said, "that shouldn't have died. I'm one of the lucky ones to be here. The heroes, they say, were the men who died."

Contact the writer: kmonitz@standardspeaker.com; 570-501-3589

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