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Garrison Holt Davidson was a U.S. Army officer, combat engineer and commander, college football coach and military educator from the 1930s to the Cold War-era.
Education and Early Military Career
A career U.S. Army officer and World War II combat commander, Davidson was born in the Bronx, New York City on April 24, 1904, the son of a New York National Guard officer. In 1923, he graduated from the prestigious Stuyvesant High School in New York City, where he was a star on the school's championship football team and a member of the Omega Gamma Delta Fraternity. Davidson realized his boyhood dream of becoming a soldier when he was appointed to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. There he distinguished himself in football and graduated with the Class of 1927. Upon graduation, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with the 1st Engineer Regiment at Fort DuPont, Delaware, and maintained a West Point connection as an assistant Army football coach.
In 1930, he returned to West Point as an instructor in the physics department and assistant football coach. In 1933, he became head football coach (at a record young age), finishing in the 1937 season with a record of 35 wins, 11 losses and 1 tie. From 1938 to 1940 he was posted to Hawaii as a company commander with the 3rd Engineer Regiment. In 1940, he returned to California as the post engineer for Hamilton Army Airfield (the former Hamilton Air Force Base) on the north shore of San Francisco Bay. At the time of Davidson's arrival, Hamilton's mission was being expanded from that of a bomber base with the addition of three wings or six squadrons of Curtiss P-40 Warhawk and Curtiss P-36 Hawk fighter planes.
World War II
In February 1942, Davidson transferred to Washington, D.C. as Assistant Chief, Construction Division, Office of Chief Engineer working for U.S. Army Corps of Engineer Colonel Leslie Groves on the construction of The Pentagon.
By October 1942, Davidson was a colonel and chief engineering officer for Seventh United States Army serving General George S. Patton in North Africa and Sicily. As a combat engineer, his efforts enabled Patton’s armor to move rapidly across enemy territory. An appreciative Patton used his own general stars to honor Davidson in a September 1943 battlefield promotion to brigadier general. Davidson remained with Seventh Army as General Alexander Patch succeeded Patton, planning for Operation Anvil / Operation Dragoon, the Allied landing in southern France after the D-Day invasion of Normandy in June 1944, and continued with Seventh Army in its move through Germany. At the conclusion of the war he was an engineer with Fifteenth Army and served as president of the first Nuremberg War Tribunal for military defendants.
After World War II, in 1946, he was assigned to Sixth United States Army as its chief engineer and in 1948 became chief of staff for General Mark W. Clark and Albert C. Wedemeyer at the Presidio of San Francisco. In July 1950, he was called to Korea by Eighth United States Army commander General Walton H. Walker, who also served under Patton in World War II, and directed Davidson to construct a defensive line protecting the Pusan Perimeter. Known as "Line Davidson", Davidson had to subvert his professional better judgment to construct the line to the preferences of General Douglas MacArthur and Walker, trading away defensibility and good internal communications.
As the North Korean invasion was repelled, Davidson was assigned to the 24th Infantry Division as its assistant commander. Davidson reprised his effort at fortifying a more defensible perimeter around Pusan with the second North Korean invasion. He then headed "Task Force Davidson" as it broke out of the perimeter to hook up with the forces invading from Inchon. Afterwards, he constructed fortifications north of Seoul. He concluded his tour of duty as acting commander of the Korean Military Assistance Group. From 1951 to 1954 he was a weapons system analyst at the Pentagon.
Military Educator and Cold War Warrior
During the next six years, Davidson played a significant role in training officers serving in the post-war and atomic eras. Starting in 1954 he was commander of the U.S. Army's Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, then in 1956 he returned to the United States Military Academy as its superintendent. There he largely prevailed over strong traditionalist viewpoints, breaking barriers and initiating a process of revision and modernization of the academy’s instructional program little changed since Sylvanus Thayer (1817-1833), the academy’s legendary superintendent. The momentum of his reforms continued through the superintendency of his successor, William Westmoreland and into the 1970s. In 1957, while at West Point, he was promoted and confirmed to the rank of lieutenant general.
After West Point, Davidson was commanding general of Seventh United States Army in West Germany in its role as a forward deployed force during the Cold War. In 1961 the mobilization of Seventh Army during the Berlin Wall crisis.
In 1962, his final command was of First United States Army headquartered at Fort Jay, Governors Island, New York. While there he also served as U.S. Military Representative to the United Nations. After a 37 year military career, Davidson retired from active duty on April 30, 1964.
Davidson resumed his connection with West Point from 1983-1985 when he was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to a two year term to the Board of Visitors to the United States Military Academy.
Davidson died in Oakland, California on December 25, 1992 and was buried at the West Point Cemetery. The inscription on his gravestone reads: “Soldier, Coach, Educator and His Best Teammate", the latter reference to his wife of 58 years, Verone Gruenther Davidson who died in 1996 and was the sister of a former NATO commander, General Alfred M. Gruenther.
At the time of his death, Garrison was survived by three sons, Garrison Holt Jr., of Los Angeles, Thomas M., of Darien, Conn., and Alan R., of Sarasota, Fla.; three daughters, Linda L. Hurst, of San Luis Obispo, California, Bonnie Elaine Bardellini and Gail Marie Davidson, both of Martinez, California; 14 grandchildren, and 2 great-grandchildren.