‘Dynamic’ response builds Davis monument ahead of schedule

Davis monument ready well ahead of schedule

rmanley@macon.comNovember 8, 2012 

Twenty paces down the hill from the foot of Sgt. Rodney M. Davis’ grave in Linwood Cemetery stands a new monument -- an obelisk of polished gray and black granite -- memorializing Macon’s only Medal of Honor recipient’s act of selfless heroism 45 years ago.

Its path traces further back. Five years, possibly longer.

The monument features Davis’ likeness, with his name appearing to have been etched with a stone-rubbing effect, as if numerous visitors already had traced his name to paper with charcoal. On the four sides of the black granite top, images of a pair of boots, rifle and helmet -- commonly called the “Fallen Soldier Battle Cross” -- seem to hover in midair.

The story of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines in Vietnam is scrawled around the base, reaching Sept. 6, 1967, the day Davis threw himself on an enemy grenade to save fellow Marines.

The monument’s own path begins a few years ago when one of those Marines, Randy Leedom, drove to Macon from Hillsboro, Ore., to pay respects to Davis. He found the site in Macon’s Pleasant Hill neighborhood overgrown with weeds, and soon the 1/5 Vietnam Veterans Association (named for the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines) got involved with helping the Davis family and cemetery volunteers keep up the site.

Marines don’t leave other Marines behind.

“Had Rodney come home, he would have been a 1/5 Vietnam Veteran,” said Nicholas Warr, the group’s past president and treasurer.

The veterans group holds two “work parties” at the cemetery each year that supplement other efforts on a regular basis. Too often the work parties required repainting the big wooden sign in Marine Corps’ scarlet and gold that overlooked the bluff on Interstate 75.

Last fall, Warr had a thought: “Why not do something permanent?”

He presented the idea for the memorial to the veterans group’s annual reunion and recalls it being met with enthusiasm. Warr had gotten two preliminary estimates that the memorial would cost about $50,000. The fundraising goal, however, would be $75,000, with the remainder funding a scholarship in Davis’ honor.

“I said, ‘This is not going to be easy.’ ’’ Warr said. “I said, ‘I don’t know how long this is going to take.’ ’’

It did not take nearly as long as Warr expected. He and others from the group met with the Davis family and with the Macon Cemetery Preservation Corp. and other cemetery volunteers. They launched their fundraising efforts in February.

In less than six months, almost $80,000 was raised.

That surprised Warr, a salesman by trade.

“Doing this is never easy,” he said. “People are really rubbing their nickels and dimes together, wondering how to make ends meet. Just about anywhere you go in Macon, you ask, ‘Do you know who Rodney Davis is?’ and they say, ‘Yes. What can I do to help?’ It turned out to be -- I don’t want to say easy, but dynamic. ... I thought it would take two years.”

The monument features four granite benches. Its reinforced concrete foundation ended up being more costly than expected.

However, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has pledged a grant for the scholarship fund that will be announced Saturday, after the monument’s unveiling. The ceremony at Linwood is at 10 a.m. Leedom is expected to attend.

A commemoration brunch to benefit the scholarship will follow at 11:30 a.m. at the Marriott Macon City Center.

Tickets for the brunch are $60 at the door. For more information, contact Warr at (828) 243-8708 or go to www.1-5vietnamveterans.org.

Thursday afternoon, volunteer Greg Smith and others worked to ready the site for Saturday’s ceremony. Smith, along with other volunteers, including local high schools’ Junior ROTC programs, has worked in sprucing up Davis’ site and the cemetery for about four years. He paused and looked down the hill at the granite structure standing tall above I-75.

“Few things make me speechless,” said Smith, who served in the Air Force. “This is one of those few things.”

Smith said it has been particularly gratifying to see the reaction of Davis’ family, who chose to have him buried at home rather than Arlington National Cemetery. Davis deserves the honor, Smith said, adding, “it’s long overdue.”

Smith also recognizes there’s still work to be done at the cemetery but says the new monument shows things can get done. Especially when you call in the Marines.

“When the Marines show up, they start taking action,” Smith said.

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