Did he play soldier as a little boy, dreaming that some day he would wear the uniform of his country and face the enemy bravely? When he volunteered for the US Army in 1945, he was destined for a career in service, one that would lead him to many places in the world and from which he would retire as one of the most-decorated soldiers from Union County, one who was distinguished for heroism and noble service.
Leon’s friend, Charles Waymon Cook, who grew up in Blairsville and became a teacher and poet, has written a noteworthy tribute to Leon in a poem. With Charles’s permission, I share that poetic tribute to Leon:
A Gallant SoldierI am grateful to Charles Waymon Cook, poet, who ably captured the life and spirit of brave soldier Major James Leon Davenport in his poem, “Gallant Soldier.” More of his poems can be read in his recently-published book entitled Beyond the Mountain Haze.
(In tribute to Major James Leon Davenport.
Retired, 24th Infantry Division and 3rd Infantry Division, US Army
by Charles Waymon Cook)
A gallant soldier from the hills
With valor demonstrated;
When Leon’s nation needed him,
He never hesitated.
Twenty-one years in three tough wars
He fought for liberty;
While decorated many times,
He wore humility.
Commissioned on the battlefield
For bravery sublime,
He risked his life for other men
When he was in his prime.
Our country owes its gratitude
For services well done;
He gave the best one man could give
With earthly battles won.
In quietude his pace has slowed
As age and time drift in;
Let’s not forget this gentle giant—
A soldier and a friend.
But this salute is to the soldier, Major James Leon Davenport. His military career, spanning twenty-one years, saw him volunteering for the infantry as a private as World War II was coming to a close in 1945. During his career, he served 131 months overseas in various locations. He was in the Philippines, Korea, Japan, Germany, and Vietnam. During the Korean War, he was in the famed 24th Infantry Division about which we can now read in the histories of this war. His was the very first unit to see action in Korea.
From private to major, he worked through the ranks, serving admirably as a rifleman, in a tanker, as a platoon leader, as company commander, and as his battalion’s executive officer. During those years, he practiced fairness and soldierly conduct, admired and emulated by those who needed a role model for their own military service.
On five occasions he was decorated for heroism. Three Silver Stars are among his medals, as are the Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal, Bronze Star with victory medallion, Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry, Combat Infantry Badge, and others. You do not hear of his decorations from him. Ever humble and grateful that he had opportunity to serve his country, he is the last to talk about or ever boast of how his country recognized his service. But we are beginning to find out, and we gladly salute Major James Leon Davenport.
After his first ten years in the Army, he came back to Blairsville in 1955, but then in 1961 he was recalled to active duty during the Berlin Crisis. He spent eleven more years serving his country until he retired in August of 1972. Toward the end of his service career, he was Inspector General of Fort Knox, Kentucky.
His retirement from active military service did not bring an end to Major Davenport’s career. Recognizing his leadership and administrative skills, the Board chose him to became CEO of the new and struggling Union General Hospital. As administrator there for 21 years, until his retirement from that position in August, 1993, Leon Davenport led the hospital to accreditation and to a stature of notability, with a strong health care team and excellent medical facilities.
Active in his church and community, Leon Davenport is citizen, patriot, family man and friend. He comes from a long line of solid citizens whose ancestors both paternally and maternally go back to the Davenports who settled in the area of Davenport Mountain in the Ivy Log District and the Southers who established Souther Mill in the Choestoe District. Leon’s parents, John Prescott Davenport and Ethel Lee Souther Davenport met “about half-way between” their places of birth—at the Blairsville Collegiate Institute when they were both students there. They were married July 19, 1925. Leon was their first child. He had two siblings: Vivian Evangeline Davenport who married Kenneth Roy Chambers and Douglas Davenport who was born 12/9/1931 and died 6/3/1981.
James Leon Davenport and Barbara Hooper Twiggs were married September 18, 1953. They have just recently celebrated their 57th wedding anniversary. Their children are Cayce Lynn Davenport Friedly (married to David Friedly) and Ralph Douglas Davenport (married to Delila Echemendia).
For his service to country and community, and for his firmly held family and spiritual values that continue to make our country a leader among nations, we salute Major James Leon Davenport!
c 2010 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Sept. 23, 20103 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.