Fred Davis of Englewood, Fla. graduated from high school in 1942 and immediately signed up for the Army Air Corps during the middle of World War II.
“I went in the Army Air Corp and never took basic. I was sent to signal school in Pendleton, Org. I became an 18-year-old, private first class supply clerk. From there I was sent to be part of a ground crew for a B-17 bomber stationed at Pueblo, Colo.
“I went from there to New York, got on the Queen Mary around Thanksgiving 1942 and sailed for Glasgow, Scotland. We took a train to England and spent all our time during the war working for a signal company service group based at Edington Hall, an estate, 30-miles northeast of London,” Davis recalled 70 years later.
“Col. Curtiss LeMay was the commander of our unit, the 1092 Signal Company, part of the 8th Air Force. He was pretty strict, but friendly,” the 90-year-old former sergeant said. “Except one time when I was wearing this brown leather belt instead of a green webbed belt.
“He said to me,’You got a certificate to wear that belt?’
“‘No sir,’ I replied.
“‘I better not see it on you again,’ he said.”
LeMay would later become commander of the Air Force and the Strategic Air Command after World War II.
Much of the time Davis was a messenger. He delivered Teletyped messages where they needed to be delivered.
“The only combat I got to see in World War II was when a buddy and I went to London. We were down there checking out the city that had been badly bombed by the Germans.
“It started to get dark and German plans began flying over bombing London. Search lights turned on and anti-aircraft gun crews were firing at the enemy planes,” Davis recalled. “An air raid warden told us we had to go down in the subway to escape the ‘Blitz.’ We decided we didn’t want to go down in the subway with all those people, so the two of us hid out in the Red Cross building that night.
“The next morning I found out the Red Cross building we were in had been hit four times by German bombs. We had survived one night of the ‘Blitz.’ That was the extent of my World War II.”
Just by chance, he sailed for home aboard the Queen Mary.
“There were 17,000 troops aboard the ocean-liner when we sailed for Europe three years earlier. When we sailed home there were 10,000 soldiers on the ship,” he said. “It took us six days to get home to New York.
“When we got to Fort Dix, N.J. they gave us our separation papers, $300 cash and said, ‘See yah.'”
By January 1946 Davis went to work for the Civil Service. He became a finance and accounting clerk. A decade later he had had enough of civilian life and rejoined the regular army as a sergeant;
“I was sent to Fort McClellan, Ala. to join the Chemical Corps. I ended up with the 6th Army in California in the Chemical Corps. Eventually I was sent to Okinawa as part of the corps,” he said.
“I became part of the 5th Ordinance Disposal Company in Okinawa. We would pick up the unexploded stuff from World War II, take it to a dump area and detonate it.”
“‘Wasn’t that dangerous?’
“We cleaned up the hand grenade range on Okinawa. You had to make sure you had your thumb over the blasting cap so the pin didn’t come over and set the grenade off while you were holding it.
“We found some mustard gas in jars dated 1937 we had to dispose of. All I had on was an apron ad a pair of rubber gloves with holes in them. I was pitching the stuff into the sea.
“When I finished disposing of the mustard gas my arms and legs started breaking out in a red rash. The redness developed into blister on my body. I spent the next 18 days in the hospital recovering.”
Davis stayed with Ordinance Removal in Okinawa until June 1963. Then he was stationed in Fort McClellan helping run the Chemical, Biological and Radiological program there for the troops. He showed Ordinance Disposal people how to operate a gas chamber.
“I got tired of that and volunteered for Vietnam in 1966. I ended up with the 266 Chemical Company attached to the 1st Infantry Division at Lai-Khe, about 30 miles from Saigon,” he said. “My job was to prepared the teargas chemicals they were spraying on the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese Army by helicopter.
“When my year in Vietnam was up I got orders to report to Fort Lee, Va. I wasn’t there long when I got new orders to report back to Vietnam. I flew back to Lai-Khe once again. But this time I was in charge of a piece of equipment in a helicopter that searched out enemy hot spots.
“We were out flying when I saw these two guys on the ground with AK-47 (assault rifles). I dropped a smoke grenade that landed at their feet,” he recall. “They opened up on us with their AKs and shot 50 holes in our chopper. I was the only one aboard hit by enemy fire.
“One AK-47 round hit my pocket knife I had in my pocket, broke my knife, but the bullet stayed in my pocket. Another piece of enemy shrapnel hit me in my leg. I still have my broken knife and AK-47 bullet.”
Davis received a Purple Heart for his injuries.
After returning from Vietnam in December 1969 a second time he went to work with an Army Reserve chemical company in Augusta, Ga. On Nov. 1, 1973 he retired from the service after 20 years.
That year he came to Englewood where his mother lived. He’s been here ever since.
Name: Fred Wayne Davis
D.O.B: 25 April 1924
Hometown: Columbus, Ohio
Currently: Englewood, Fla.
Entered Service: Oct. 1942
Discharged: 1 Nov. 1973
Unit: 1092 Signal Company, 5th Ordinance Disposal Company, 266 Chemical Company
Commendations: Purple Heard with Palm, Air Medal (5th Award)
Battles/Campaigns: World War II, Vietnam
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014 and is republished with permission.
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