Army Gen. Michael Davison; Fought in WWII, Vietnam

Gen. Michael Davison is shown as commander of II Field Force during the Vietnam War, when he was ordered to plan and carry out a controversial invasion of Cambodia.
Gen. Michael Davison is shown as commander of II Field Force during the Vietnam War, when he was ordered to plan and carry out a controversial invasion of Cambodia. (Family Photo)
By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Michael Shannon Davison, 89, a retired Army general who saw combat in World War II and Vietnam and who served as commandant of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, died of congestive heart failure Sept. 7 at the Knollwood military retirement home in the District.

Jan Scruggs, president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, said it was Gen. Davison who rescued the Vietnam Veterans Memorial when bitter controversy over the design threatened to doom the project.

Scruggs recalled how, in January 1982, the retired general sat silently through an emotional four-hour meeting and then, at the opportune moment, offered a compromise.

"We have an unconventional memorial," he told the group. "Let us add a traditional element to symbolize the American fighting spirit."

His proposal, pairing Maya Lin's V-shaped black granite wall with figures of three soldiers in combat, was met with immediate approval.

"He was a think-out-of-the-box kind of guy," Scruggs said. "He was also very smart. He waited until the end of the day, when everybody was very tired, before he made his suggestion."

By then, Gen. Davison had known his share of battles, beginning with his World War II experiences with the 45th Infantry Division in Sicily and other areas of Italy, where he took part in three amphibious landings amid some of the most intense fighting of the war. At Anzio, Davison, then a major, was given command of the 1st Battalion, 179th Infantry Regiment.

In 1944, he was in the small French town of Meximieux, his unit tactically divided as the Allies chased retreating German army forces north. When a German armored division turned to attack its pursuers, then-Col. Davison and his men found themselves surrounded, outmanned and outgunned. The battle raged for two days until the Germans were forced to abandon the assault and continue their retreat.

For his actions at Meximieux, he was awarded the Silver Star. By the end of the war, he had been wounded twice, received the Bronze Star for gallantry in action and was awarded the Combat Infantryman's Badge. Years later, Meximieux made him an honorary citizen and named its city square Place de General Davison.

Nearly three decades after his combat experiences in World War II, Gen. Davison had just arrived in Vietnam as commander of II Field Force when Gen. Creighton W. Abrams Jr. paid him a surprise visit. The commander of military operations in Vietnam ordered Gen. Davison to plan and undertake an invasion of Cambodia. Although the invasion sparked bitter protests in the United States, Gen. Davison always believed it deprived the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces of vast amounts of logistical assets.

The son of an Army cavalry officer, Gen. Davison was born in San Francisco and grew up on Army posts throughout the American West. He graduated from Western High School in the District in 1935 and from West Point in 1939.

His first tour of duty took him to Fort Brown, in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, with the 12th Cavalry Regiment.

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