By MARTHA SMITH
Special to the Standard
NORTH KINGSTOWN – A local man who was a star athlete at North Kingstown High School in the 1960s, a college football captain and, at the age of 30, a U.S. Army enlistee, has been awarded The Legion of Merit, one of the military’s most prestigious honors.
Created by Congressional act in 1942, The Legion of Merit decoration is awarded for “exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service and achievement.” It is sixth in order of precedence among all military honors.
It is the latest in a long list of medals, ribbons and promotions received by Command Sergeant Major Gerald R. “Gerry” Davis, 61, who took mandatory retirement last May at age 60.
Among his other decorations are the Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal with five oak leaf clusters, Army Achievement Medal with five oak leaf clusters, National Defense Service Medal with bronze service star, Iraqi Campaign Medal and the War on Terrorism Service Medal.
His last assignment was with the 719th Transportation Battalion in Boston.
Growing up on Prospect Avenue in Wickford, Davis pursued dual interests in fitness and military history. In 1967, after making all-state and being named captain of the high school football team, he was selected as the Providence Journal’s Schoolboy Athlete of the Year.
Tall and rugged, he played football at Southern Connecticut State University, receiving a bachelor’s degree in Health, Physical Education and Recreation, then obtained a master’s in business from Johnson & Wales.
He worked for General Dynamics and ran a health club in town and, when his sons, Jason and Jared, were young he joined the service.
“I always wanted to go in,” he explains. He enlisted in the Army Reserves in 1982, signing on for six years. He completed basic and advanced training at Fort Benning, Georgia where he was named “Soldier of the Cycle” and achieved the top score for his company on the Army physical fitness test.
“I was in good shape,” he says. “I went into the drill sergeant unit [academy instructor and master fitness trainer] and it took the place of coaching.” He began moving up through the ranks and wanted to attend Officers Candidate School but, he laughs, “I was too old, although I qualified.
“I never dreamed I’d stay in [for] 28 years.”
In succession, he was promoted to Civil Affairs Specialist, Corporal, Sergeant, Staff Sergeant, Sergeant First Class, Master Sergeant, First Sergeant and, ultimately, Command Sergeant Major. He entered the Sergeant Major Academy at age 57.
He recalls commanding 21 teams that monitored all trucks crossing the Turkish border into Iraq at the ancient city of Harbor Gate.
“We checked vehicles with provisions, materiel, ammo and personnel.”
Davis says there were more than 1,000 troops in his company plus support personnel. “There were some bizarre situations,” he notes. “I traveled everywhere. A couple guys almost got nailed by mortars. They [militants] were chopping heads off civilians.”
At his retirement party at the East Greenwich Veterans Firemen’s Club, so many commanders and high-ranking officers showed up in dress uniforms, there were enough stripes on display to put a zebra convention to shame.
Davis credits his wife, Marianne, who heads the physical education department at East Greenwich High School, with being the glue that’s held everything together during his near-three decades of off-and-on deployments.
“I was away for 24 of 37 years of anniversaries,” he says, noting that the first event to be held at the new Cold Spring Community Center, on Aug. 10, 1974, was their wedding reception.
Davis, who works as a risk control consultant for Trident Insurance Services, believes in staying in touch. He’s still in contact with high school and college teammates as well as Army buddies.
He serves as Deputy Commander of VFW Post 152 which has a number of World War II veterans among its membership. Davis says, “I try to help by visiting them in the nursing homes.” He also lends a hand with North Kingstown’s patriotic parades as well as American Legion matters.
After surviving warfare in extremely dangerous places, Davis nearly lost his life at home.
Four days after hip replacement surgery, two arteries ruptured and he began to bleed uncontrollably.
“I lost nine liters of blood,” he says. “Can you imagine making it back from overseas and then biting the bullet here?”
Martha Smith is an award-winning journalist and author. Retired, she is an independent contractor of SRIN and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .