War memories:WWII forced local sailor to grow up quickly

Published 4:30 pm Monday, November 12, 2007

By Staff
Story and photos by Lydia Grimes
Gene Davis knew little about the rest of the world before he joined the Navy just after graduating from W.S. Neal High School. But World War II forced Davis - as it did so many young people of his generation - to grow up quickly.
Davis's family history gave him some insight into military life - he followed in his World War I veteran father's footsteps.
Davis was assigned to the heavy cruiser USS San Francisco, which was based at San Diego, Calif. He spent the war in various actions in the Pacific - and even had to face kamikaze pilots. The Japanese would send their planes out with the object of crashing their planes into ships. Japanese pilots were required to give up their own lives, but they considered it an honorable thing to do.
Not all planes that were sent crashing into ships were successful in taking the vessel out, Davis said, but plenty hit their marks.
The San Francisco was the first ship in the war to get the Presidential Unit Citation, and it was the only ship on which an admiral was killed.
Some of the bloodiest fighting was during the battles of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands in the Pacific. Davis said his ship carried around 1,000 men, and there were 267 casualties.
During the battle of Guadalcanal another cruiser - the Juneau - caught two torpedoes and sank. The first torpedo was sent toward the San Francisco, but it missed and collided with the Juneau. Another torpedo finished the cruiser. Among the Navy personnel who were lost that day from the Juneau were the Sullivan brothers. The brothers had requested to be put on the same ship, but after the Sullivans were killed, a military decision was made to make sure brothers would never serve on the same ship. Davis had an older brother, Nathan, who also served in the Navy.
The USS San Francisco Ca-38 won 17 battle stars. It received the Presidential Unit Citation, sank four Japanese warships, lost 107 killed in action and 160 wounded. It covered 298,000 miles and used 30.2 gallons of fuel oil.
The walls in Davis's living room are covered with pictures and objects that have U.S. Navy on them. Even his afghan has the Navy theme. He received 17 medals and 18 ribbons during the war.
After World War II, Davis went on to serve in the Korean War and the in the Vietnam War when the French pulled out. But he remembers his World War II brethren every November on Veterans Day, especially since they are swiftly shrinking in number. Every year that goes by means a loss of more than 1,500 veterans of that war, Davis said.

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