A gruff looking man with a thick, gray mustache stepped to the microphone at Linwood Cemetery on Saturday morning as cars rushed obliviously by behind him on Interstate 75.
Standing before about 200 people who had come to the hillside to see the new memorial for Marine Sgt. Rodney Davis, Randy Leedom paused to control his emotions before putting it plainly.
If it hadnt been for him, I wouldnt have had two sons and two granddaughters, he said. I would not have been married to Kitty for 42 years.
Davis, Macons only Medal of Honor recipient, didnt just put himself at great risk to save the lives of others. In the blink of an eye, he flat out gave up his life.
On Sept. 6, 1967, in the Quang Nam Province of Vietnam, Davis and Leedom were in a trench together just a few feet apart and under attack from a larger North Vietnamese force. Leedom saw a grenade land in the trench and dove away from it. Davis dove on top of it.
After the ceremony, Leedom said there were about a dozen men within the blast radius of the grenade.
It was the chaos of combat that brought the two into the trench together. The two men never actually met, but Leedom said he has thought about Davis about every day ever since.
Leedom lives in Oregon, and several years ago he was in Nashville for a Marine convention with his wife when they decided to drive down to Macon to visit Davis grave. Leedom didnt like what he saw. The site was overgrown with weeds and a wooden sign marked Davis sacrifice. He thought Davis deserved better.
Although he credits the actual work to others, that sparked an effort led by the 1/5 Vietnam Veterans Association, named for the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines that fought in the battle that day. In a fundraising effort that went much faster than expected, they raised almost $80,000, enough to pay for the memorial and create a scholarship fund in Davis honor.
The new memorial includes an etching of Davis in uniform, with the story of his sacrifice scrawled around the base. It is on a large platform with four granite benches.
Alice Jackson, president of the Macon Cemetery Preservation Corp., declared it Macons greatest memorial.
I know this is going to be a landmark for Macon, for our country and maybe all of the world, she said.
Nick Warr of the 1/5 Vietnam Veterans said it would have taken longer to get the memorial up had it not been for its maker, Chad Brown, owner of Standard Granite in Elberton. When Brown was enlisted for the project, Warr told him he didnt know when they would raise enough money to pay him. Brown started on it anyway and had it nearly completed before he was ever paid anything.
The audience included retired Marines, Boy Scouts, Davis family members and others.
John Hollis, a former Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter who is married to Davis niece, is writing a book about Davis. He has interviewed many of the eyewitnesses.
He said one thing many people may not know is that during a time when race riots were occurring in the U.S., the five men closest to Davis in the trench that day were white.
The beauty of it is, all of these guys were brothers, he said. It didnt matter what color you were. It was a brotherhood that lasts until this day.
Also, Hollis said, Davis was serving in London when he volunteered to go to Vietnam, though he had a wife and two daughters. He was there for only three weeks before he was killed.
The battle was so vicious that of the 48 men in Davis platoon, by the end of the day all but 11 were either killed or evacuated for injury, and seven of those still left received Purple Hearts.
Davis older brother, Gordon Davis, said Rodney Davis always wanted to be a Marine.
If you had known him like I knew him, you would not be surprised at what he did, Davis said. He would not have gone to Vietnam and got shot like anybody else. That was not his style.
To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.