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
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
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.
After World War II, Gen. Davison received a master's degree in public administration
from Harvard University, worked two stints at the Pentagon, served as commander of the
1st Regiment, U.S. Corps of Cadets at West Point and served in Europe.
He graduated from the National War College in 1958 and in 1963 became the 51st
commandant of cadets at West Point. Since his own West Point performance was a bit
less than stellar -- he enjoyed himself too much, his son recalled -- he found it particularly
satisfying that the Army recognized the value of his broad military and leadership
experience. During his tenure, he implemented an improved physical education program
and increased emphasis on leadership training.
He served as commandant of the Army's Command and General Staff College, where he
helped prepare officers for duty in Vietnam, and in 1970 assumed command of II Field
Force in Vietnam.
In 1971, he became commander in chief of the U.S. Army in Europe. As a senior U.S.
officer on the continent, he felt a special obligation to help the Army rebuild and recover
from its Vietnam experience and to make the transition to an all-volunteer service.
He emphasized race relations and equal opportunity, instituting seminars and sensitivity
training, among other tools to deal with racial issues. In 1976, the NAACP presented him
with its Meritorious Service Award.
After his retirement from the Army in 1975, Gen. Davison served as president of the
United Service Organizations and as vice president of Joseph R. Loring and Associates,
an architectural engineering firm, before retiring a second time in the early 1980s. He
served six years as president of the Association of Graduates, a West Point alumni group.
His first wife, Jean Miller Davison, died in 1983. A daughter from that marriage, Katherine
Davison, died in 1957.
Survivors include his wife of 21 years, Helen Walker Davison of Arlington; three children
from his first marriage, retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Shannon Davison Jr. of the District,
Donald Angus Davison and Mary Davison Hill, both of Petaluma, Calif.; 11 grandchildren;
and two great-grandchildren.