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A young sailor cousin

Given the size of The Legal Genealogist‘s family, it’s hardly surprising to find a state where some relative lives or has lived in the past.

In fact, since my mother was one of 12 children, 10 of whom lived to adulthood, and her father was the baby of a family of at least 10 children, and at least seven lived to adulthood, and her mother’s father was the baby of a family of 10 children … well, you get the picture.

First, second, third, fourth cousins… I have ’em by the bushel.

So when I sat in the hotel last night in Bend, Oregon, getting ready for today’s Spring Seminar of the Bend Genealogical Society, it didn’t come as any surprise that I have — and have had — cousins in Oregon.

One of those cousins — a fourth cousin in my Baker line — lives right here in Bend and we’re meeting for the first time in person, after a decade or more of genealogical correspondence, tomorrow. That’ll be fun.

But there’s another cousin who lived here in Oregon that I won’t have the chance to meet.

Charley Joe Davis Sr., my second cousin, died here in Oregon in May of 2001.

Essentially all I know about him comes from his obituary in the Roseburg, Oregon, News-Review:

CHARLEY JOE DAVIS, SR., 74, of Sutherlin, passed away Tuesday, May 15, 2001 in a Roseburg hospital. He was born June 18, 1926 in Iowa Park, Texas to Warren A. and Mattie L. (Harris) Davis. Mr. Davis served in the US Navy during World War II. On August 24, 1962 in Tacoma Washington he married Phyllis L. Clark. Mr. Davis worked for 30 years as a long haul truck driver. He owned and operated his own truck for several years. Mr. Davis also worked for 11-1/2 years as a truck driver for West Coast Grocery in Tacoma, Washington. The Davis’ moved from Tacoma, Washington to Sutherlin in 1996. He was a member of the Sutherlin Assembly of God, Teamster Local 313 and the Elks Lodge. Survivors include his wife Phyllis Davis of Sutherlin, children Warren Davis, Cindy Bradford, Daniel Clark and Kimberly Hopper, all of Washington; 12 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Memorial services will be held Monday May 21, 2001 at 11 a.m. at the SKP Park club house in Sutherlin. Pastor Brian Mercer will officiate. Private cremation rites have been held. Chapel of the Firs is in charge of arrangements.1

His mother, Mattie, was the daughter of Charley Emmett Harris and Addie Lee Cottrell, my maternal grandfather’s sister. She was the baby of four, and the third to survive to adulthood.

And until last night that’s really all I knew. I had made an effort years ago to get in touch with Charley Joe’s family, to no avail, and … I have to confess … it was at a time when I was still shooting for the low-hanging fruit in the family’s genealogical tree, and I didn’t try all that hard.

But I noticed something last night that’s going to have me taking another look at this cousin.

Charley Joe Davis, the obituary says, was born on the 18th of June, 1926.

And, the obituary says, he served in the Navy during World War II.

Now admittedly math isn’t one of my strengths, but I can subtract 1926 — the year of my cousin’s birth — from 1945, the year the war ended. And I come up with 19.

So… just how old was this cousin when he served in the Navy?

The records on Fold3.com gave me the answer. He enlisted, according to the Navy records that have been digitized, on the 4th of June 1944.2 At that moment, he was two weeks to the day short of even being old enough to register for the draft.

In other words, he was a baby. Not even 18 years old yet. Possibly chomping at the bit to get into the fight. Possibly terrified of what war would mean and hoping that enlisting for service in the Navy would protect him from the worst that he’d face in conscription.

But those same Navy records tell us that Charley Joe Davis didn’t stay a baby for long.

He — alongside every other sailor on the USS Albert W. Grant — grew up all too fast.

Here’s what history tells us about the USS Albert W. Grant:

• She was a Fletcher Class destroyer: “At 2,050 tons standard displacement and approximately 2,900 tons fully loaded, the Fletchers were significantly larger than any preceding American destroyer classes.”3

• Construction began 30 December 1942 at the Charleston Navy Yard. The USS Albert W. Grant was a little larger than other Fletcher class destroyers: she was one of the yard’s last two Fletcher-class 2,100-tonners.4

• The USS Albert W. Grant was launched 29 May 1943, commissioned 24 November 1943 and entered the war in April 1944 in the Pacific. “(S)he operated with the Seventh Fleet in support of landings at Hollandia, part of Gen. MacArthur’s New Guinea jungle campaign. During the summer, she and other ships of her squadron were attached to the Fifth Fleet for the invasion of the Marianas, with Albert W. Grant operating in a fire support unit at Tinian.”5

• She was in the Battle of Leyte Gulf.6

Leyte Gulf.

October 24-27, 1944.

An action in which this destroyer was an integral part.

For that action, the USS Albert W. Grant, the crew and officers were awarded the Navy Unit Commendation:

For outstanding heroism in action against enemy Japanese forces during the Battle for Leyte Gulf, October 24 to 27, 1944. Conducting a determined torpedo attack against a Japanese task force in Surigao Strait on the night of October 24, the U.S.S. ALBERT W. GRANT closed range to fire her first half salvo of torpedoes and succeeded in scoring hits on a Japanese battleship. Although severely damaged when heavy enemy guns opened fire as she turned to retire, she remained in the battle area and successfully launched her five remaining torpedoes, scoring hits on other enemy units. With all power gone, fires raging, compartments rapidly flooding and over one hundred casualties to care for, she fought throughout the night to remain afloat. Finally, assisted by a tug from Leyte, she effected the repair of her crudely patched holes and the pumping out of excess water and oil, resolutely continuing damage control measures until she could be taken in tow to an anchorage in Leyte Gulf. Crippled but undaunted, the ALBERT W. GRANT, superbly handled by gallant officers and men, rendered distinctive service and upheld the finest traditions of the United States Naval Service.7

The USS Albert W. Grant lost 38 men with another 104 wounded in that battle. And if that weren’t enough, en route to safety, while under tow, she had to weather a typhoon.8

Through all of which, Charley Joe Davis — age just barely 18 — was on board.9

The USS Albert W. Grant rejoined the Seventh Fleet in the Philippines in May 1945 and “participated in the final amphibious operations of the war at Balikpapan and Brunei Bay, Borneo; then … was deployed to Alaska. The war ended before further operations could be undertaken, however, and after participating in occupation duty in Japan, she returned to the West Coast. Albert W. Grant decommissioned 16 July 1946 and was placed in reserve at San Diego.”10

And Charley Joe Davis was still with the USS Albert W. Grant at that point.11

I know a whole lot more about Charley Joe Davis this morning than I did yesterday.

And I sure am proud to call him cousin.


SOURCES

Image: The USS Albert W. Grant, via Wikimedia Commons.

  1. Obituary, Charley Joe Davis Jr., Roseburg (Oregon) News-Review, 17 May 2001; digital images, Newspaperarchive.com (http://www.newspapers.com : accessed 20 May 2004).
  2. Muster Roll of the Crew, U.S.S. ALBERT W. GRANT (DD649), for the quarter ending 30 September 1944, p.3, entry for Charley Joe Davis; Record Group 24, Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel, 1798 – 2007, National Archives, College Park, Md.; digital images, “U.S. World War II Navy Muster Rolls, 1938-1949,” Fold3.com (https://www.fold3.com : accessed 21 Apr 2017).
  3. Fletcher class,” Destroyer History Foundation (http://destroyerhistory.org/ : accessed 21 Apr 2017).
  4. Ibid., “USS Albert W. Grant DD 649.”
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid., “Unit Commendations: USS Albert W. Grant DD 649.”
  8. USS Albert W. Grant,” Clan Grant Society – USA (http://www.clangrant-us.org/ : accessed 21 Apr 2017.
  9. Muster Roll of the Crew, U.S.S. ALBERT W. GRANT (DD649), for the quarter ending 31 December 1944, entry for Charley Joe Davis, S1c; RG24, Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel, 1798 – 2007, NA College Park; digital images, “U.S. World War II Navy Muster Rolls, 1938-1949,” Fold3.com.
  10. USS Albert W. Grant DD 649,” Destroyer History Foundation.
  11. Muster Roll of the Crew, U.S.S. ALBERT W. GRANT (DD649), Sailing from Seattle to San Diego, 11 April 1946, entry for Charley Joe Davis, SM3c(T); RG24, Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel, 1798 – 2007, NA College Park; digital images, “U.S. World War II Navy Muster Rolls, 1938-1949,” Fold3.com.
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