It perhaps is fitting, on a weekend in which Americans paused to mark the anniversary of the event which took the lives of so many of its heroic firefighters, that one of Columbia Countys own heroes would pass away.
Gene Davis, the retired chief of the Martinez Fire Department, died Saturday. Before his retirement just five years ago, Davis gave his adult life to protecting the safety of his country and his community.
Long before he became a smoke-eater, Davis first firefights were of a different kind: as a combat infantryman in Korea. He later served two tours of duty in Vietnam, earning two Purple Hearts, the Combat Infantrymans Badge and a Bronze Cross.
Returning home from war, Davis - a Tennessee native - found Martinez by way of Fort Gordon. He helped out as a volunteer firefighter, and after retiring from the Army in 1972, Davis again put on a uniform as only the third man hired by the Martinez Fire Department.
Thus began a long and rewarding second career - and not just for Davis. A former understudy, Martinez Assistant Chief Gary Thigpen, says some people are alive today because of the programs he started.
Moving up through the ranks to become chief in 1985, Davis worked tirelessly to modernize the private fire service. He expanded the department from three stations to six to serve the growing population of Martinez and Evans. Davis started a fire safety program for local schools. The department acquired its fire safety house during Davis tenure, and added a training center and mechanics shop.
Davis also helped develop the departments highly regarded Honor Guard and Color Guard, which perhaps performed its finest duty in bidding farewell to Davis.
Columbia Countys Memorial Day celebration this year will include ceremonies conducted by those firefighters, and like the commemorations on the weekend of Davis passing, the events will honor those who gave so generously to the service of our country.
This country, and this community, owe Gene Davis a fond farewell, and our deepest gratitude.
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