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Beacon Senior News

Fruita veteran Calvin Davis served in three military branches, three wars

Oct 25, 2021 03:05PM ● By Michael Melneck
Fruita veteran Calvin Davis looks at photos from his time in the military.

95-year-old Fruita veteran Calvin Davis looks at photos from his time in the military.

There aren’t many World War II veterans like Calvin Davis left. And despite turning 95, and serving in multiple wars and military branches, he isn’t showing any signs of slowing down.

Davis was born October 23, 1926, on the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation in New York’s Adirondack Mountains. He grew up on the reservation, raised by his grandmother.

“I didn’t go to school ’til I was 7,” Davis said.

Not that he was much of a fan of school anyway; Davis managed to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps at 15. He only lasted five weeks at Camp Lejeune, South Carolina, before his true age was discovered.

“They put me in a secure kitchen (I called it a jail) and I peeled potatoes for four days, and I never got time in grade credit for any of the five weeks. They put me on a bus and sent me home,” he said.


Navy life

At age 17, Davis tried again and enlisted in the U.S. Navy. This time he was successful and was sent to basic training north of Chicago. Within a few weeks, he was on a ship headed to Pearl Harbor.

“I went to help clean up the mess,” he said. “That was 1943 and Pearl still looked awful.”

Eventually, Seaman Davis was sent from Pearl Harbor out to the Marshall Islands, where his potato peeling skills were put to use as a cook.

“An admiral needed a second cook, and he looked at me and said, ‘This man was a butcher when he was 11 years old and I think he’ll make a fine cook,’” he said.

Davis and his fellow cooks often prepared food on the top deck of the PC1602, or “submarine hunter,” which constantly moved to avoid being an easy target. This meant that even the cooks got caught in the action.

“Once we came under a kamikaze attack, and we saw a plane coming at our ship. We all crouched down behind whatever we could find, but the plane bounced off of our ship and then exploded,” Davis recalled. “The other cook stood up but couldn’t talk—he just muttered and pointed. When we all looked, the Japanese pilot’s head and an eye were on the deck near us, and that’s all that was ever found.”

There were other things that made life on a Navy ship less than easy. 

“One night two sleep walkers went right over the side. We saved them but a few nights later one of them did it again,” he added.

Davis’ next Navy ship took him to Australia, then back to Pearl Harbor before heading north to the Aleutian Islands.

“We were always on patrol. We went back to the Marshall Islands and I was assigned to a naval medical team as a firefighter,” Davis said. “I was a cook for one day, a firefighter for one day, and the third day they gave me leave.”

He later followed General MacArthur to the Philippines, where he learned radar and sonar, which were fairly new technologies at the time. 

By the time Davis returned to the U.S. mainland, he had earned enough time in grade credit and chose to separate from the Navy and return to civilian life. But it didn’t last long.

“Sixty-five days later I was back in a recruiting office and I joined the U.S. Army Air Corps (later the Air Force),” he said.


Air force firefighter


Calvin Davis as Fire Chief.

 

As an airman, Davis was assigned gunner duty on a B-25, and learned both ends of the plane—turret gunner and tail gunner. His squadron was sent all over, including to Italy to interrupt Mussolini. But they never made it because a blizzard over the Alps forced the pilots to take a roundabout through Spain, France, England and Ireland to get to Germany.

“We flew to 26 countries in the Orient, Europe and North Africa,” he said. “We were headed for South Korea when North Korea invaded the south, so we turned away.”

Davis was also stationed for five years in Japan, where he shared his firefighting skills. 

“I still speak fluent Japanese. That was my best assignment,” he said.

However, one of the trainings used an accelerant and the fire got terribly out of control.

“The fire melted our rubber boots to our skin. I have scars almost to my knees,” Davis recalled.

Davis’ Air Force career eventually brought him to Wichita, Kansas, as the McConnell Air Force Base Fire Chief. While there, he saw several cargo planes crash on takeoff, either because the load was too heavy or was unbalanced. One killed his commanding officer.

“Crash rescue was the hardest part of any job I had in the military. Too much fire and death,” he said.

Davis next served as the fire chief at Travis Air Force Base before becoming the fire chief for nearby Vacaville, California. 

When he retired in 1999, he and his wife, Darlene, decided to move to the Grand Valley where his sister-in-law lived.

After his many years and careers in the military, it’s an understatement to say that this World War II veteran still doesn’t know the meaning of retirement. 

“Today I repair toys, about 20-25 a week, for the thrift store in Fruita. I love to decorate our house for Christmas. This year it’ll be circus trains,” Davis said. “I’ve had a serious life, but I try to laugh a lot.”


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