Remembering a WW II hero

On April 3 of this year I had the honor of preaching the graveside funeral of Art Davis, a World War II hero. Like many veterans of that war, Art was very reluctant to talk about his experiences in combat. In the 26 years that I knew Art, we only had one extensive conversation about his involvement in the war. It was after the death of his first wife, as we were sitting alone in his living room.

Art Davis Memorial Service, April 3, 2012

As a Marine Corp officer, Art fought in some of the bloodiest battles of the war, including Guadalcanal. It was on that Japanese stronghold in the Solomon Islands that he experienced a dramatic display of brotherly love. Art lost several men during an intense firefight on an enemy-held hill. After regrouping, he, along with his enlisted assistant, went back for the bodies of his fallen brothers. Under a barrage of Japanese bullets, both men jumped into a foxhole only to discover a Japanese soldier sliding into the other end of that ditch less than 10 feet away. Art told me that they locked eyes, and for a minute or so seemed to have reached unspoken agreement that “if you don’t fire, I won’t fire.”

While still staring at each other, the Japanese soldier suddenly grabbed a hand grenade, pulled the pin and jumped toward Art, trying to ram it into his chest. His suicide mission was interrupted by Art’s assistant. This unnamed soldier, in an act of incredible bravery and heroism, rolled over Art, putting himself on top of the grenade and between his commanding officer and the enemy. He took the full force of the explosion.

Two men died that day–the one who unsuccessfully tried to kill his enemy and the one who successfully saved his brother. As Art told me that story tears streamed down his face. It was the only time I ever saw him cry. He would not talk about the reasons for his various medals or discuss any of his own personal exploits in the war. He did say that he successfully retrieved the bodies of his men that day, including the one that was blown to pieces saving his life.

Jesus said “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). The Apostle Paul, elaborating on this truth, writes, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die–but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6–8). Art understood this truth and the dramatic illustration of it that he experienced at Guadalcanal led him to a lifelong, quiet devotion to Jesus Christ as Lord.

I watched Art bury two wives and honorably live with a third whom he left as a widow. I also watched him live out a life of unassuming loyalty to the church that he helped plant nearly 30 years ago. During my tenure as his pastor, Art remained steadfast. He never spoke in a members’ meeting, but he was faithfully present, even in his octogenarian years, at the most crucial of those meetings that his church ever faced. And he quietly stood firm for his convictions, under the authority of God’s Word and in fulfillment of the church’s covenant and confession.

Art was a faithful man. You never had to wonder where he stood. He did not suffer fools gladly and he had no tolerance for those who did not keep their word. His generation has been called the greatest that America has produced. In many ways, that is true. He and the other American soldiers like him who have served this country in any capacity during war or peace deserve the honor and respect of those of us who live free because of their service.

May the Lord bless the memory of Art Davis and all those who have served this nation faithfully throughout her history.