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State Park at Manila Honors WWI Hero

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  • Herman Davis Memorial State Park

  • Herman Davis Memorial State Park

February 5, 2002

State Park at Manila Honors WWI Hero
By Craig Ogilvie, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

Arkansas's sixth state park, Herman Davis Memorial, honors one of the state's bravest war heroes and is the smallest park in the system. The one-acre park located in Manila (16 miles west of Blytheville) features a 25-foot granite obelisk and a marble statue of Davis.

In 1919, when Gen. John "Blackjack" Pershing announced his 100 patriots of World War I, Private Herman Davis of Arkansas appeared in the fourth position. Today, a stately granite memorial and restful park in his hometown serves as a reminder of one of the state's greatest heroes.

Friends and neighbors of Herman Davis were surprised by Pershing's list. They knew Davis as a quiet, unassuming young man who grew up on a nearby farm with an unabiding love of the outdoors. Like hundreds of other Arkansas men, Davis had gone into military service, returned home a few months later and resumed his former lifestyle.

Herman Davis was born January 3, 1888, and grew up on the lakes and rivers that are now part of the Big Lake Wildlife Refuge and Management Area east of Manila. His parents operated a small country story, and the elder Davis fished and hunted to supplement their meager income.

Herman was in the fourth grade when his father died, which forced him to begin supporting the family. He carried on the farm work like a man, but his passion was hunting and fishing the nearby wetlands. Davis became such an expert outdoorsman that visiting sportsmen paid for his guide services. His marksmanship became legendary, and Davis hunted commercially to provide ducks for fine restaurants in distant cities.

Small in frame, Davis was past 30 years of age when inducted into the military in 1918. He underwent basic training at Camp Pike, near Little Rock, was assigned to the 113th Infantry of the 29th Army Division, and shipped to Europe on June 15, 1918. The trip was exciting for a young man who'd never traveled. Davis wrote home, "I can't begin to tell you how big the ocean is..."

First assigned as a company scout, Davis was made a sharpshooter when officers learned of his marksmanship. By the fall of 1918, the Kaiser and his armies were near defeat, but still fighting desperately in France. As Davis' company entered a deep valley near Verdun, they were pinned down by machine-gun fire. Davis crawled through a hail of bullets until he could see the four enemy soldiers manning the guns. Within seconds the German guns were silenced.

No one in Davis's outfit witnessed the incident, but an officer in another unit was watching from a distance. His report resulted in the awarding of the U.S. Distinguished Service Cross, the French Croix de Guerre with Palm Leaf and Gilt Star, and the French Medaille Militaire. Davis did not relish the attention for something he considered "part of his duties." He reportedly wore his medals only once; preferring to keep them neatly tucked away in an old fishing tackle box.

Before the war's end, Davis exhibited two similar acts of bravery, which resulted in some 26 enemy casualties. His exploits, in the midst of chemical warfare, undoubtedly saved many American lives, but also took a toll.

Back in Arkansas, Davis resumed his outdoor guide business, but his health soon declined. Doctors diagnosed him with pulmonary tuberculosis attributed to his prolonged contact with chemical gases. He died Jan. 5, 1923. The war hero, who avoided the limelight, was eulogized in the U.S. Senate and the Arkansas Legislature and buried in his hometown cemetery.

Almost immediately, two fund-raising drives were launched to honor Herman Davis. An American Legion Post at Marianna wanted to erect a memorial at the Old State House in Little Rock and establish a scholarship program at the University of Arkansas. Another drive in Mississippi County began in order to build a monument at Manila.

The local effort, which included school children contributing pennies, raised $5,000 (enough to commission a sculptor to create a life-sized statue of Davis from Italian marble. Donations also paid for an imposing 25-foot-tall Vermont granite obelisk for the statue to rest upon. The soldier's remains were moved to the base of the monument, located on slightly less than an acre donated by Manila. The memorial was dedicated on Memorial Day, 1925.

The Depression and World War II left neglected many public treasures around the state and nation. In 1951, the State Legislature granted $2,400 for improvements at the memorial but also declared the state "assumes no control or responsibility for its future maintenance." In 1953, though, an arrangement was crafted between Manila and the parks system whereby the city would maintain the day-to-day upkeep of the park and the state would provide major maintenance and supervision of the memorial site.

Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the monument proudly reminds visitors of the heroic deeds and sacrifices made by an Arkansas Son.


Submitted by the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism
One Capitol Mall, Little Rock, AR 72201, (501) 682-7606

May be used without permission. Credit line is appreciated:
"Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism"