Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. Rodney M. Davis (USMC)

John Hollis

My new book, “Sgt. Rodney M. Davis: The Making of a Hero,” is a factual account of the life, death and enduring legacy of Macon, Georgia’s lone Medal of Honor recipient following that fateful afternoon in Vietnam’s Que Son Valley in which his company of 200 Marines desperately tried to withstand an onslaught by an NVA force estimated to have 2,500 men during one of the nastiest fights of the entire Vietnam War.

A member of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, Davis served as a right guide in 2nd Platoon, Bravo Company. His platoon listed 48 men at the start of Operation Swift, including two machine gunners, a two-man sniper team and a forward artillery observer. Just 11 remained by the time major combat operations concluded on Sept. 6, the rest either having been killed or wounded seriously enough to warrant a medevac out. Of those 11, eight later received Purple Hearts for gunshot and/or shrapnel wounds suffered during combat.

The time of his death in 1967 was one of the most volatile in U.S. domestic history, with Davis and other African-Americans ironically still being denied at home the very liberties they were fighting to defend thousands of miles away in Southeast Asia. More than 150 U.S. cities experienced costly and equally-as-destructive race riots that summer, and Jim Crow remained the law of the land in Davis’ hometown of Macon, Georgia as America slipped closer to anarchy than at any time since the Civil War.

That Davis still chose to jump onto an enemy grenade at the critical moment and sacrifice his own life for the lives of five fellow Marines who just happened to be white speaks volumes about Davis, his principles and his unflinching courage even in the face of certain death. It takes a special man to fight for a country that has denied him full rights as a citizen, a more extraordinary one still to willingly lay down his own life for that country.

Davis, however, didn’t care about color. The Marines sharing that trench with him were ALL his brothers, and he was no stranger to looking out after his own after coming of age in the Jim Crow South. Color had always been a contentious issue there, but it had no place along Vietnam’s frontlines, where each man depended on one another for survival no matter their race. Davis would do anything for the four siblings with whom he grew up, and would do no less for his new Marine brothers in Vietnam. He died as nobly as he lived.

Davis is one of only 88 African-Americans ever awarded the Medal of Honor and is honored at both the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, VA and the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

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