Retired Col. William V. Davis, 59, a health care administrator who served in the Army for 38 years, died of cancer Tuesday at Washington Hospital Center.

He had been executive officer of the Army Medical Research and Development Command and an administrator at Walter Reed Army Hospital for five years before retiring in 1974.

Col. Davis was a native of Danville, Ill. He enlisted in the National Guard at the age of 16. He was stationed at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked it on Dec. 7, 1941.

He was commisioned a second lieutenant in the Army Medical Service Corps in 1942 and served in Europe.

From 1957 to 1959, he worked in the Amry surgeon general's office. He was an adjutant at Walter Reed from 1963 to 1966 and was executive officer of an Army hospital in Stuttgart, West Germany, for three years before returning to Washington in 1969.

After leaving the Army, he was a budget officer for blood services with the American Red Cross in Washington.

He was a graduate of the Army-Baylor University School of Hospital Administration at Fort Sam Houston, Tex., and the University of Maryland.

His medals included the Legion of Merit and the Bronze Star.

Col. Davis had been a member of the American Hospital Association and the American College of Hospital Administrators.

Survivors include his wife, Dorothy S., and two daughters, Sandie Vaughn and Jackie Lynn, all of Rockville; another daughter, Laurel D. Synnestvedt of Scituate, Mass.; his mother, Nell Davis of Danville, and a brother, Louis, of Oakland, Calif.

The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to the Development Office at Children's Hospital.