Walter Edgar Davis, Jr. and Arthur William “Pete” Harding, two U.S. Marines from the Alleghany Highlands, fought the Japanese in the Battle of Iwo Jima.
Walter, the son of Walter Edgar Davis, Sr. and Mamie Davis, was born and raised in Clifton Forge. Walter’s father was a plumber, and Walter’s mother worked as a retail clerk in a store near the intersection of Ridgeway and Main St. in the City of Clifton Forge.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Walter enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps, and after basic training, he saw action in the Pacific Theater of Operations.
Born at Woodstock in Shenandoah County, Va., Pete was the son of Charles William Harding and Daisy Maude Rhea Harding Dressler, and he arrived in Covington with his family when he was eight.
Pete, who was born on Oct. 21, 1921, graduated from Covington High School in 1940.
He served with the U.S. Marine Corps 4th Division from 1942 to 1945, seeing action in the Pacific Theater of Operations.
Not only was he a survivor of the Battle of Iwo Jima, but Pete saw action at the Marshall Islands, Saipan and Tinian. His U.S. Marine Corps Unit won three presidential citations.
Pete retired from Westvaco after 44 years of service, and he was a member of Local 675 where he served as vice president, safety director and Chaplin.
He was a 50-year member of Local Moose 610, and he attained Pilgrim Degree.
Also, he was a 50-year member of the Curtis A. Smith Post 1033 Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Pete, who served on the Covington’s City Council and as mayor, passed away at 81 on Feb. 6, 2003, at Alleghany Regional Hospital, leaving behind his wife, Virginia “Bubbles” Mahaney Harding, and three daughters.
His daughters and their husbands are Elizabeth Brooks and David, of Piney View, W.Va., Ruth Hulvey and Mike of Harrisonburg and Mary Smith and Tom of Jacksonville, Fla.
On Feb. 19, 1945, Walter and Pete were part of the U.S. attack force that stormed the beach on Iwo Jima where 20,000 Japanese troops were dug in on the high ground of the island in pillboxes, caves and a network of tunnels.
Walter and Pete could not have known at the time that the Battle of Iwo Jima would become the bloodiest and most deadly battle in the history of the U.S. Marine Corps. For the 36 days of combat that it took to stop the killing, U.S. casualties had mounted to the highest number of any battle before or after.
Having been trained as an operator of an amphibious warship, Walter transported the troops from ship to shore where Lt. General Tadamichi Kuribayashi, the Japanese commander on Iwo Jima, ordered his men to let the U.S. Marines land before opening fire with artillery positioned on Mount Suribachi.
Pete was one of those who survived crossing the beach and taking the high ground, and Walter is one who survived delivering U.S. Marines to the beach where 27 U.S. Marines and Navy personnel won the Medal of Honor, the highest number for one battle in the history of the U.S. Military.
Walter was able to deliver his fellow Marines safely to the beach and return to the ship to deliver more to the shore.
Once upon the beach, Pete and his fellow Marines were at first pinned down by artillery fire from Mount Suribachi that loomed high above the beach.
By Feb. 20, Lt. Col. Charles Shepard of the 5th Marine Division led his men off the beach under deadly conditions to attack the Japanese artillery positions.
For three days of fierce fighting, the U.S. Marines advanced by using flamethrowers, grenades and explosives until the American flag was raised on the top of Mount Suribachi, a symbol of victory.
However, because the Japanese were positioned in caves and tunnels, the Marines suffered many casualties from counter attacks that lasted for a month following the photographing of the iconic flag-raising.
By the end of the hostilities, Kuribayashi was among the Japanese casualties. The fighting had resulted in three dead Japanese soldiers to every one U.S. soldier killed in action.
The death toll and missing in action for U.S. forces was 6,800. In addition, 26,000 U.S. soldiers were wounded.
Of the 20,000 Japanese soldiers defending the island, only 283 were taken prisoner.
Although the Battle of Iwo Jima resulted in more Japanese troops being killed than U.S. soldiers, more U.S. troops were wounded than the total number of Japanese troops defending Iwo Jima.
Iwo Jima was a strategic island to capture because of its close proximity to Japan. The eight-square-mile island once captured provided the U.S. with an airbase where U.S. fighter aircraft could fly escort for U.S. B-29 Bombers that had a longer range for bombing runs that were staged from too great a distance for fighter airplanes on other islands to serve as escorts to make without running out of fuel.
Also, the capture of Iwo Jima was a psychological victory because it was the first of Japan’s homeland islands that was captured.
Back home after the end of World War II, Walter married Jewel “Judy” Mae McDermont of Clifton Forge, and the couple lost a son, Walter Edgar Davis, III, and daughter, Judy Kay, both during birthing.
Cherie Suzanne Allen was their first born; Judith Jones, their second born; and Andrea Murry, their last. Walter adopted Donna, Judy’s firstborn from a previous marriage.
Walter became a locomotive engineer for the C&O, and Judy worked in the office at the C & O Hospital and at Alleghany Regional Hospital.
Walter, who was preceded in death by Judy, passed away on July 8, 2017, at 94.
Both Walter and Pete were honored by receiving full military funerals from the Curtis A. Smith Post 1033 Veterans of Foreign Wars. Interment for Walter was at Mountain View Cemetery in Clifton Forge, and Cedar Hill Cemetery in Covington became Pete’s burial site.