Charles W. Davis
U.S. Army Major, World War II
Charles W. Davis was a battalion executive officer within the 27th Infantry Regiment, part of the 25th Infantry Division. Major Davis and his wife had been stationed at Schofield Barracks on Oahu, when the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. After completing its preparations, the 25th Division was ordered to Guadalcanal to take over the fight for control of this strategic island. In their opening offensive, Davis played a crucial role in the attack on Japanese positions dug in on Galloping Horse Hill. Leading four other men up a narrow draw, Davis crested the ridge and assaulted the Japanese positions atop Hill 53 with grenades, pistol, and rifle fire. Silhouetted against the sky, Davis’ brave assault electrified the other nearby commands who had been stymied by Japanese fire and the stultifying heat. Captain Davis’ actions on Guadalcanal led to his promotion to Major and a Medal of Honor. Davis was promoted three times during the war, served in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and later reached the rank of Colonel before his retirement in 1972.
The National Medal of Honor Museum Foundation is honored that the family of Major Charles W. Davis chose to donate his Medal of Honor to the Museum for inclusion and display in its collection. Given by his son J. Kirk Davis, an author and resident of Palestine, Texas, the Medal was presented along with his father’s deeply emotional letters sent to his wife, Joan, relating to the award in 1943.
On the day Kirk Davis donated his father’s Medal, he sat down with Major General Patrick Brady, a Medal of Honor recipient himself and member of the Museum Board who knew Charles Davis personally, to talk about his father’s life, his bravery on the battlefield, and the great love of his life, wife Joan. Highlights from that conversation may be viewed in the video below.
“I want to thank Kirk and the Davis family for donating these priceless treasures. Preserving and sharing these stories with America is essential to ensuring that next generation will continue to learn from heroes like Major Davis.“-Maj. Gen. Pat Brady, NMOHM Board Member and Medal of Honor recipient
Medal of Honor Citation
For distinguishing himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy on Guadalcanal Island. On January 12, 1943, Maj. Davis (then Capt.), executive officer of an infantry battalion, volunteered to carry instructions to the leading companies of his battalion which had been caught in crossfire from Japanese machineguns. With complete disregard for his own safety, he made his way to the trapped units, delivered the instructions, supervised their execution, and remained overnight in this exposed position. On the following day, Maj. Davis again volunteered to lead an assault on the Japanese position which was holding up the advance. When his rifle jammed at its first shot, he drew his pistol and, waving his men on, led the assault over the top of the hill. Electrified by this action, another body of soldiers followed and seized the hill. The capture of this position broke Japanese resistance and the battalion was then able to proceed and secure the corps objective. The courage and leadership displayed by Maj. Davis inspired the entire battalion and unquestionably led to the success of its attack.
Charles W. Davis was born in Gordo, Alabama and graduated from Sidney Lanier High School in 1936, and attended the University of Alabama. A natural athlete all his life, Davis was a pitcher on the Alabama baseball team. Davis received his commission through an ROTC program and entered the U.S. Army on May 11, 1940.
Charles Davis was first sent to San Antonio, Texas where he met and later married his beautiful wife, Joan Kirk in June of 1941. The newly married couple was next assigned to the 25th Division, stationed at Schofield Barracks on Oahu in the Hawaiian Islands. On December 7, 1941 the Japanese attacked the barracks and nearby Pearl Harbor. While Charles sought to organize a defense of the island against any potential Japanese landing, his very pregnant wife dove for cover against the Japanese strafing and would later give birth to their first child.
Guadalcanal: Silhouetted Against the Sky
Maj. Charles W. Davis and the advanced elements of the 25th Infantry Division’s lead elements landed on the island of Guadalcanal on December 17, 1942. Commanded by Maj. Gen. Lawton Collins, the 25th Division (“Tropic Lightning”) was part of the newly formed XIV Corps, led by Maj. Gen. Alexander Patch. This fresh force was to take over from the exhausted 1st Marine Division and drive the Japanese army from the strategic island.
Before the new arrivals fell ill with the likely tropical diseases, Patch ordered the seizure of three key positions near the Matanikau River – Mount Austen, the Galloping Horse, and the Sea Horse.
Collins, in turn, assigned his regiments different roles. The 27th Regiment, Davis’ unit, was told to assault the Galloping Horse – a 900-foot-tall hill said to resemble a running horse in aerial photos.
On January 10, 1943, the attack began on the Galloping Horse. Supported by an artillery bombardment and close air support, the men from the 27th Regiment finally captured Hills 51 and 52 upon the “hindquarters” of the Galloping Horse. By the next day though, the assault was clearly at risk of bogging down. Heavy fire from Japanese machine guns and mortars, combined with a lack of drinking water, stymied any further movement.
Fearing that his first offensive was at risk, Gen. Collins pushed the 2nd Battalion forward. Maj. Davis, executive officer of the 2nd Battalion, requested the opportunity to move to the front to help realign Companies E and F at the base of Sims Ridge, before their assault on the head of the horse Hill 53. Under enemy fire, Davis ran 300 yards to the front, established an observation post, and with his radio directed 81mm mortar fire onto the Japanese positions atop Hill 53. The Japanese directed their own fire on Davis’s location, killing 1st Lt. Weldon Sims, who died in Davis’s arms. Despite all the support, the 2nd Battalion men were unable to advance up the slopes of Hill 53. A new plan was needed.
That new plan for January 13, directed by Lt. Col. Mitchell, had most of E and F companies moving through the jungle around the hill in an encircling motion. Meanwhile, Maj. Davis and four volunteers would advance frontally against the Japanese positions. Davis had spied a narrow draw that he thought was the only way to approach the Japanese.
Crawling on their bellies through the tall Kunai grass, Davis led Staff Sergeant William Curren, Sgt. Russell Ward, and Privates Oren Woodward and Joseph Steck towards their objective. With American mortar fire passing overhead, Davis and his volunteers neared the Japanese bunkers. Now within grenade range, he ordered his men to lob two grenades apiece into the nearby Japanese positions. Back came two Japanese grenades that landed amongst the Americans. One of the grenades was a dud. The other failed to explode fully. Sensing that this exposed position was a bad place to linger, Davis decided to once more take the offensive. Sprinting to the ridge, Davis was followed by his men. Reaching the crest, Davis and his men fired down on the surprised Japanese. Davis’ M1 rifle quickly jammed. As he switched the rifle to his left hand, he drew his pistol and continued firing, killing a nearby Japanese soldier.
With the initiative clearly in favor of the small American force, Davis continued down the back-slope firing on any Japanese taking flight. The momentum of the attack took Davis and his volunteers over the final 250 yards and up the steep slope to the summit of Hill 53. Davis later described this moment “like being let out of school for the summer, like release from prison, for they [his men] were momentarily madmen.”
With Americans now in control of this vital objective, the heavens opened up, and a torrential rainstorm soaked the parched men of the 27th Regiment.
Davis had not realized that his actions were clearly visible not only to the two forces near the base of Hill 53 but also to General Collins and his staff watching the attack from their command post. As widely reported by soldier and general, Davis’ silhouette stood out clearly on the ridge. As he beckoned his men forward, others below were emboldened as well. Davis’ leadership had electrified the entire 2nd Battalion, who surged forth to join Davis on the summit of Hill 53.
When an ebullient Collins moved forward to congratulate Lt. Col. Mitchell, Mitchell replied, “it was not me, but Davis and his men who did it.” Davis’ attack was called a “deciding factor” by Collins and a “brilliant attack” by Col. McCulloch, the regiment’s commander.
The attack on the Galloping Horse ended in a decisive victory for the Americans and the men of the 2nd Battalion, 27th Regiment. After the attack more than 170 Japanese were found dead on or around the Galloping Horse.
“Major Davis displayed superb leadership, great daring and a willingness to sacrifice himself far beyond the call of duty.”– Maj. Gen. Lawton Collins
Photos courtesy of Kirk Davis
Receiving the Medal of Honor
After the Japanese had been driven from Guadalcanal, Maj. Gen. Lawton Collins sent a letter recommending Charles W. Davis for the Medal of Honor. Learning that he was likely to receive the nation’s highest military decoration, Davis sent his wife Joan a letter dated March 13, 1943 where he states that “I simply have to pinch myself to realize that it is true.” In a second letter sent the day before the presentation on Guadalcanal, Davis asked his sister-in-law to “pray for me to remain clear minded and to make correct, clear decisions.”
On July 30, 1943, Major Charles W. Davis was presented the Medal of Honor by Lt. Gen. Millard Harmon, commanding general of the Army Forces in the South Pacific.
Davis would go on to lead the 3rd Battalion of the 27th Regiment in the upcoming campaign on New Georgia – a particularly difficult and challenging campaign.
On 23 September 1943, the 26-year old Davis received a telegram marked SECRET on a trans-Pacific plane headed for the States notifying him of his promotion to lieutenant colonel.