Jesse Walker Davis

October 8, 1923 ---- September 24, 2009

Information submitted by his daughter, Brenda Davis Crabtree




Dispatch from Commander Task force 16 - Midway battle - dated June 7th 1942
Survivors Poem - Guadalcanal




Jesse Walker Davis peacefully passed away on September 24, 2009 at 5:30 pm surrounded by his loving family at the Medical Center in Columbus, Georgia.   Born October 8, 1923 in Eagan Park, Georgia to Walker and Jessie Mae Farr Davis, he grew up in the Fulton County area with four sisters and three brothers.  In addition to one surviving sister, Lorene Davis Murdock of Fayetteville, GA and one surviving brother, William Carlton Davis of Newnan, Georgia , he is survived by his wife, Dorothy W. Davis of Columbus, Georgia; a daughter, Brenda Davis Crabtree; his son, Paul Walker Davis; six grandchildren; five great-grandchildren; and a host of admiring nieces and nephews.    He served as a Seaman 1Cl/Gun Striker on the USS Atlanta and, following the Battle of Guadalcanal and sinking of the mighty Atlanta, continued serving in the Pacific on the USS Libra and USS Capricornus during the remainder of his WW II  4-year enlistment in the Navy.   After his Navy enlistment, he devoted another 25 years serving his country in the US Army which included Korea and three tours in Viet Nam.   Among his army units were the 82nd Abn Brigade, the 1st Special Forces Group; the 173d Abn Brigade; the 5th Special Forces Group; and the 197th Infantry Brigade.   “Jay” was a devoted son, a caring brother, a loyal friend, a valiant Sailor then selfless Soldier; a loving husband, a priceless father; a one-of-a-kind grandfather, and a very proud American.  He was a man of character who lived simply and cherished life.  He placed his family first and loved each individual profoundly.  He gave willingly to friends; helped all those in need; and faithfully served God and country.

Affectionately known as “Jay” or “JW,” he was very close with Eagan Park, Georgia childhood friend by the name of William “ Bill” Busby.    Before their 18th birthdays, as war ominously loomed in their future, they made a pact with each other to join the Navy and serve together.   Both handsome---looking like brothers with dark wavy hair and approximately the same build---they enlisted together immediately after Jay’s 18th birthday.  They took a bus to Macon, GA for processing and finished basic in Norfolk, VA.   The two buddies were joined by two more neighborhood friends, Bill Smith and Clifford Dunaway as they reported to NY City 19 December 1941.  They each stood proudly on deck in sharp uniforms as handsome young sailors assigned to the USS Atlanta when Margaret Mitchell commissioned the gallant ship on the 24th of December 1941.   None knew the bloodshed that would soon lie before them.   Some came back; some did not.   Lives were changed forever.  The Sailors who served on the Mighty Atlanta were all a rare breed of men and most grew up during that Great Depression.  They were among many who went off to fight in the “Big One” and came home from that war and built the nations of the Western world into economic powerhouses.  Those men knew the meaning of sacrifice both in terms of material possessions and of real blood, sweat, and tears.   They were humble men who never bragged about what they had done or been through.  They were loyal, patriotic, and level-headed.  They indeed were our Greatest Generation.   Thank you, Tom Brokaw, for giving them that name!  

I have gleaned my father’s photos and pictorial books…..the small ship’s kitchen where a few men prepared meals for hundreds of sailors as the ship rocked to and fro, and at the giant guns the men used to blast the enemy and knock planes from the sky.   A lot of them were just 18….some even younger.   All were men surely mature beyond their years.  I’ve looked at their young, handsome faces in the photographs and think they are a cut above all the rest.  Their extraordinary manliness is not something you can scientifically measure.  But you can sure feel it and you can see it in old pictures.   It seems every man back then was dashingly handsome; their manliness just jumps off the page---especially my father’s!   I not only know the USS Atlanta had the bravest among all men but she also had the most handsome!

My father rarely spoke of the carnage those guys endured.  He loved history and believed in the importance of the truth of our history.  He related facts as they transpired; yet, did his best to avoid the painfully descriptive and personal details of the tragedy of war and its effects upon his shipmates.  What he often spoke of was their character, their commitment; their loyalty; their dedication and their friendships.  That’s what got him thru the following years of his life----he saluted smartly; carried forth with the mission and kept their memories burned right in his heart.  His silence was due only because of the pain and he knew it is always best to move forward from wherever we are.   Learn and go forth.  Live in the present and make each day count.   I also think his silence was a way of “protecting” me.  After-all, he was my Daddy.   He relayed to me his excitement as a young man from Georgia who was “lucky” enough to have the privilege of serving on one of America’s newest and finest light cruisers and its voyage into the Pacific.   He told me the history of each battle; the importance to the US regarding the geographical locations of islands in relationship to the war and the importance each battle/Campaign played regarding the outcome of the war.  Dad told me stories about the little dog “Lucky” who would perform antics and tricks for anyone who would give the friendly little mutt a treat.  I know the “secret” of who stowed the dog on board as they departed Pearl Harbor ---- none knowing at the time the fate of the little mongrel or their own over the next 11 months.   “Lucky” was with them as they cruised towards New Caledonia and on to Midway and the Solomon Islands.   He actually was a big morale booster.   My dad loved that dog!  I had five dogs named Lucky throughout my growing up years but never knew the story behind the name my father bestowed upon each one of them until I was in my mid-20’s.   I have no pictures of “Lucky” but I do have a small black/white/tan bisque figurine dog with a warm and alert expression on his face and posed in a resting position.   The figurine has a tiny chain around its neck which sports a miniature silver charm engraved:   “Lucky”  11/13/42.   The small figurine was wrapped in tissue and stored in a tiny box for years.   “Lucky” now has a special place in my home on a small table and is perched in front of a framed photo of the gallant USS Atlanta and surrounded by smaller photos of a few of the brave men she loved---including my Dad.   I have memories of funny stories told of card games gone bad; sing-alongs; sun-baths; lemonade spiked with medical alcohol; the awe of beauty in the South Pacific Islands; incredible sunrises; shooting stars across a magical black sky with a full, silver moon; Easter Sunday Services on deck; the dread of liver and green peas; and of course never enough mail.  I have the wonderful wool pea-coat with a few moth holes which my father passed along to his brother who passed it along to two more brothers and then a few nephews had the privilege of wearing it and knowing its warmth.   I also have the “cracker jack” hat and sailor blues that dad wore during a portrait sitting.   I don’t have HIM anymore but I have the very best of what he passed along to me---a legacy of love; sterling values; and the knowledge that we must all recognize a sense of purpose here on this great earth—to always be and do our best and to listen—really listen-- to that calling. 

I continue to tell people how wonderful it would be if we would dust off the values of the Greatest Generation and embrace them once again.   My Dad’s generation took personal responsibility for their life.  That generation was also frugal.  They grew up knowing the next canister of oats, a pair of shoes or pants was not guaranteed.  An orange at the bottom of a Christmas stocking was enough to knock their socks off---if they had socks.  “Bail out” was not in their vocabulary.  They simply did without.  They were prideful; they were humble.  Dad’s exploits were brave and heroic, but like most men of his generation, he rarely talked about the butchery of war, both because of the raw emotion in remembering such carnage, but also from the sense that he had simply been fulfilling his duty like all his other shipmates from the Mighty Atlanta, and thus had no reason to brag.  He did what was expected of him and rarely talked about it.  It was part of the Code.  Loyalty.    November 13th was always a “Memorial Day” for my father.   He was very reflective on each November 13th and I know he carried every nano-second of November 13, 1942 right in his heart and mind until the very day he slipped from this world as we know it and into the beyond on September 24th 2009 at 5:30 pm.   I do not believe it is ironic that every flag on the east coast was being lowered and Retreat played as my father drifted from me that day---which also happens to be my birthday.   I believe it was in God’s perfect plan that my father would have that particular final salute as tribute to his years as a sailor and soldier.    I will forever remember his statement to me shortly after his 80th birthday about that “November 13th Bar Room Brawl.”    He squeezed his eyes shut, lowered his face and slowly shook his head while saying in a voice that suddenly became coarse:   “The sound of war is indescribable.  The horrible sounds during the wee early hours of November 13th of those great guns firing and all the explosions around us were just incredible.  It was horrible.   But above the noise of battle, what stays with me even more are the agonizing screams of my shipmates.    I can never forget that sound and would never want it replicated.”   Raw emotion indeed.    November the 13th  1942 and the echoes of his shipmates were forever my father’s nightmare.   My father spoke little of the sickening carnage but he felt the loss and I saw the pain in his eyes.  I heard the pain sometimes thru his voice that would occasionally crack while speaking of “the best guys ever---those heroic shipmates of the USS Atlanta.”   They always remained right in his heart and, in his memory, he always saw their faces forever young.    And so brave.    Those guys worked hard.   In war, they learned to focus on the objective at hand and not give up until that objective and the mission as a whole was accomplished.  The crew from the gallant USS Atlanta proved that.   When Dad got home, he carried that focus over to the world of work-----he enlisted in the army within 20 months of his Navy discharge!   He didn’t fall into the fallacy that you have to “find your passion” to be happy.   My father recognized very early in life that God’s purpose for him was “service.”   He knew that.   He served well as a sailor and soldier.  He could find happiness in any job he did, because he was not just working for personal, self-fulfillment; he labored for a bigger purpose:   To give his family the financial security he did not have growing up and to keep America what it was meant to be.  He understood that the good things in life must be EARNED by honest toil. 

Dad embraced challenge.   Every crewmember of the USS Atlanta answered the call to challenge.   Their personal history documents that one.   Their generation wasn’t the greatest despite the challenges they faced, but because of them.  From their personal experience, they knew and understood that one cannot have the bitter without the sweet, and that true happiness comes from overcoming the kind of challenges that build character and refine the soul.  They didn’t think about how to get things done, they just got em’ done.    Their Presidential Unit Citation and the amazing history of the USS Atlanta and her battle stars say it all---they got it done!  WOW!     A big salute to the bravest men ever!


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