Macon, Georgia (CNN) – A smiling likeness of legendary soul singer Otis Redding greets visitors to the city clerk’s office in this central Georgia city. Down the hall, inside the mayor’s office, is a portrait of another Macon legend: Rodney M. Davis.
Both men were African-Americans of about the same age. Both men died in 1967. Both men are city heroes.
Redding and his music are famous worldwide. The story of Davis, who gave his life in Vietnam and became Macon’s only recipient of the Medal of Honor, is not so well known, despite two monuments in the city and a U.S. Navy frigate bearing his name.
Vietnam, after all, was a few wars ago. Acrimony over the United States’ presence there has faded with time, along with much of the bitterness once felt by now-graying warriors.
But the loyalty among veterans hasn’t faded. Marines never forget their own.
Saturday morning, joined by Davis’ family, a couple dozen Marines gathered near the grave of the comrade they barely knew, but will never forget.
Atop a bluff overlooking Interstate 75 in Macon, they placed a wreath and dedicated a 14-foot monument to Sgt. Davis, helping to restore the dignity that nature and neglect robbed from the cemetery that holds his remains.
They pledged protection to the man who, even in childhood, was a protector.
A forceful personality
Rodney Davis grew up in Pleasant Hill, an African-American neighborhood less than two miles from Macon’s City Hall.
In the late 1950s, Davis and his brothers often traversed Linwood Cemetery while delivering newspapers for the Macon Telegraph.
Davis was a tall youngster, who spoke out for what he believed in. He seemed to be acutely attuned to kids picking on other kids. He didn’t allow it to happen in his presence.
“He was a forceful personality,” says Josephine Davis, wife of Rodney’s older brother, Gordon Davis Jr. “He really believed in protecting the underdog.”
Even in the dark days of segregation, the Davis children learned not to sell themselves short. “My parents never put a bridle on us,” says Gordon Davis. “You could dream what you could do.”
For Rodney, that dream meant enlisting in the Marines in 1961. After serving at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Davis had a three-year stint as a guard at the U.S. Embassy in London, where he met and married his late wife, Judy.
Davis then volunteered for Vietnam. Judy and the couple’s two daughters, Nicky, 2, and Samantha, 1, stayed with the Davis family in Macon.
The family knew Davis’ life would be on the line.
“He stopped being a show Marine,” said Gordon Davis.
The family did not learn the full story of Rodney’s selfless bravery until they were en route to Washington in March 1969 for the Medal of Honor ceremony led by Vice President Spiro Agnew, nearly two years after Davis’ death.
But they were not surprised.
“What he did is exactly what I expected he would do,” Gordon Davis says.
Rodney Davis arrived in South Vietnam in mid-August 1967, assigned to Bravo Company of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines. The unit had been fighting enemy troops in and around Que Son Valley, southwest of Da Nang.
The unit operated out of Hill 51.
“It was a naked hill, and we turned it into a combat base,” says Gary Petrous of suburban Detroit. “This was like the Indian Wars, where you would build a fort and move on after you secured the area.”
It was Davis’ job as right guide to procure ammunition, food and water for his platoon. “In the heat, you go a half day without water, you go crazy,” recalls Ron Posey, the senior sergeant.
Davis was a pro. His gear was always in order.
“He didn’t talk loud, but he got things done,” says Posey, who was wounded twice in Vietnam. “Everything was always done before I asked him.”
Read the rest of the story at CNN.com.