Phillip Buford Davidson, Jr., was born on 26 November 1915 on a large ranch in New Mexico. At the age of two, Phil’s family moved to Muskogee, Oklahoma. In high school he played in the band, was a member of the debate team, held several class offices and was in the National Honor Society. In 1934 Phil had an alternate appointment to West Point while a close friend had the principal. Both passed the entrance examinations; here fate intervened. His friend was hand-cranking Phil’s Model-T Ford when the crank “kicked,” breaking his right arm. The arm was set, and the friend entered the Academy. In September 1934 the Army doctors determined that the arm had been improperly set, and Phil’s friend was discharged. Phil asked the Honorable W. W. Hastings for the principal appointment in 1935 which he granted.
As a cadet, Phil described himself as “undistinguished.” He received more than his share of demerits and eschewed cadet chevrons, viewing them as so much useless tinsel, although he was a cadet sergeant as a first classman. At the end of plebe year he calculated that he had to stand in the middle of the class to get the Cavalry and choice of cavalry station. He graduated almost precisely in the middle, as planned.
He was well-liked and respected by his classmates, particularly by his company mates in “K” Company, where he was one of its informal leaders. Years later, these company mates professed that, as an “undistinguished cadet,” Phil Davidson showed unusual promise.
His first unit was Troop “E,” 2d Cavalry (Horse) at Fort Riley, Kansas. His troop commander was Captain A. A. Frierson ’24, one of the Army’s premier horsemen; his regimental commander was COL Hany D. Chamberlin ’10, the Army’s outstanding equestrian, Olympic jump-rider, and seven-goal polo player. Phil became the outstanding polo prospect at Fort Riley and won the first place trophy for Horsemanship for second lieutenants given by the Cavalry School in 1940.
In mid-September 1940, Phil took command of “E” Troop, and his reputation rose with his increased responsibilities. After a couple of transfers and several promotions, Phil found himself a lieutenant colonel commanding the 43rd Squadron of the 3rd Cavalry Reconnaissance Group (Mechanized) at Camp Gordon, Georgia.
Phil took the 43rd to the ETO, landed in France in early August 1944, and fought to the end of the war, moving from squadron commander to group executive officer. He was a good combat soldier—“bold but not rash, imaginative, instinctively sound tactically.” He received the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart and the French Croix de Guerre.
For the next 20 years, Phil Davidson was a student and then an instructor at C&GSC; an intelligence officer on General MacArthur’s staff before and during the Korean War; an associate professor of military history at West Point; a student at the Army War College; and Chief of Staff and a combat commander of the 1st Annored Division at Fort Polk, Louisiana. He headed the Army Section of the Military Assistance division of the European Command, returning in 1961 for the National War College, followed by duty in the office of the Secretary of Defense. Then an assignment as CO, Army Security Agency Training Center and School, Fort Devens, Massachusetts. Promoted to brigadier general in 1964, he became deputy commanding general of the Army Training Center at Fort Dix, New Jersey.
In 1965 he was G-2, US Army Pacific at Fort Shafter; Hawaii. In 1967 he became J-2, Military Assistance Command (MACV) in Saigon, Vietnam and was promoted to major general.
After two years in Vietnam, he served as commanding general, US Army Training Center, Fort Ord, California for two years and in 1971 returned to the Pentagon as Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence (ACSI). In October 1972, he became the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Intelligence as a lieutenant general. On 31 July 1974 he retired.
In 1976, he began 11 years of research and analysis on the Vietnam War.
The result was a book of 838 pages, Vietnam at War, published in 1988. It became a textbook at West Point, the Air Force Academy, and many civilian universities. A second book, The Secrets of the Vietnam War, followed in 1990.
In 1940 he married Jeanne Eleanor Considine, the daughter of COL John A Considine ’13. They had three sons, Phillip, John, and Thomas. Jeanne died of cancer in 1978. In 1981 Phil married Donna Hansen, thereby acquiring two teenage stepdaughters. All survive him.
But what of the man himself? First, he was a dedicated professional soldier, schooled in military history, the science of decision-making, and oral and written persuasion. His professional standard was “zero tolerance.” He held himself to this standard but not his subordinates.
Second, he was a good man, a good friend and a good father, guiding his children with wisdom and respect.
His friendship imparted understanding of the words, honor, dignity, self-respect, courage and integrity.
Friendship was a commitment that he would never compromise, and his friendship was unconditional.
His friends will mourn his death, grieve over their loss, rejoice that he touched their lives and remember him always as a friend, an officer, and a gentleman.
Finally, Phil Davidson loved and respected West Point. He always stated that it was the major turning point in his life—giving himself a wife, family, and an honorable career. In the words of the Alma Mater, it may be said of him, “Well done, be thou at peace.”
- Mrs. Phillip B. Davidson Jr.