by Sheila Baltzell-Linn from www.parkwayindependent.com
(11-16-20) According to Rockford native, Gary Davis, in the Army, one of the most decorated and revered units is called the Rakkasan. Receiving their name from the Japanese word for “falling down umbrellas men” during the WWII first jump into Japan after the war, the name stuck for the 8000 strong member retired and active Army Veterans and parachutists of the 187th Airborne Infantry Regiment, at home at Ft. Campbell, KY. Known as the Rakkasans, by official petition of the US Congress, this division of the Army’s 101st, keeps careful track of their membership both online and through reunions. The first jump into Japan in what was supposed to be the first invasion at the end of the war, awed the Japanese women and children who said “Rakkasan” to the men. Because the paratroopers met no gunfire, it was not an official combat jump, but nevertheless became the important beginning of a new division of the Army. That jump was not counted as a combat zone jump, according to Gary, but it WAS the 1st opposing force to enter onto Japanese soil in 3000 years. The Rakkasan served in all of these wars: WWII; Korea; Lebanon; Viet Nam; Persian Gulf; Afghanistan and Iraq. The organization is incorporated with officers and a board of directors.
Gary became a Rakkasan by virtue of the unit he volunteered into way back, but his retirement years have found him great satisfaction in the organization where he served 3 years as the Rakkasan National Secretary, traveling the USA with his wife, Ruth (Linn) Davis, also from Rockford. She has enjoyed Gary’s job as much as he has, making new friends while he made new friends and renewed old military acquaintances. Gary carries a life membership as does Ruth who is a Lady Rakkasan with a life membership in Ohio Buckeye Chapter & National Chapter.
It is same 187th Airborne Infantry Regiment that Gary Davis, teenager from Rockford, joined between the Korean War and the Viet Nam War from 1962-1964. Gary never saw active duty, but completed 36 jumps in his Army career and very nearly went to Cuba for the Cuban Blockade-Missile Crisis, authorized and halted by then President John F. Kennedy. Gary remembers that 7 days clearly. They mustered out on Red Alert at 3 AM, packed their parachutes, gear and live ammunition. Flying in to Millington, TN Air Station (a land-locked Naval base), they then slept in two man tents on the ground beside the constantly running C1-30’s. Fortunately they did not have to go, but he became friends with Allen Ogram his tent mate. Allen always woke, saying, “Welcome World!” and said many times, “I’m not scared yet!” Gary said,
“I was never afraid when I jumped ~ at least once my chute opened.”
Gary was 17 when and took basic training for 8 weeks at Ft. Knox. Moving on to Ft. Gordon, GA, he became a radio teletype operator, an obsolete skill now-a-days, but Gary still know his MORSE code! Airborne School followed at Ft. Benning, GA. Three weeks of jumping started with jumping off 250 foot high towers. Lift and drop. Then two weeks of moving to C1-19 plane jumps, doing 5 of them a day, dropping 32 men one right after the other. Gary learned to jump off the back and out of the side. Completing jump school and moving on, he went to Ft. Campbell in KY. See picture of his Unit with their burro that carries their banner into battle. And, no, the burro doesn’t jump; he is shipped with great care. He was honorably discharged from the Army in 1964
Gary has had the pleasure, as National Secretary, to speak directly to some of the most decorated Veterans in the United States. One such Buckeye Chapter veteran died recently who was awarded a Silver Star meaning he had jumped 7 times into combat, two were in Korea. Another set of twins he met from Chicago, had joined during the Korean War. They were together in the 187th, but served in different battalions. When one brother got shot, the other risked his life to save him. They both became medics. As 88 year olds, they spent the rest of their lives living near each other. Gary and Ruth attended the funeral of one of them recently. The Tori symbol is Japanese meaning “We may die, but our soul passes through this gateway to heaven.”
When Gary joined the Rakkasan Organization after his retirement in 2012, little did he realize that he would soon be looking at an elected office. He and Ruth were enjoying catching up with old military buddies and their wives as well as meeting new friends at reunions at the Ohio Buckeye Headquarters and around the country at National Events. However, in 2016 he agreed to run for National Secretary. Before the election could happen, the incumbent secretary was found to be unfit, and they asked Gary to step in when the former was relieved of his status. Gary stepped up to the plate and learned a new software and database to keep the Rakkasan National. Gary was quick to mention that St. Marys Librarian, Karen tutored him on the software program. Gary said 8500 men and women are on the database located in Detroit Michigan. Some of these soldiers and wives are deceased, but it was his job to keep the database up-to-date. It was also his job to help any veteran or spouse with an problem. He spent many hours on the phone fielding calls for help. The database was ship-shape when Gary retired form the secretary’s job in 2019. The new secretary, Erik Lind, a Gulf War veteran, came in and built a new database using Gary’s records. Now it is all Internet-based and searchable. The new Shimbun newsletter is completely online, but any veteran or spouse without Internet stills gets a printed copy. Gary and Ruth are both Lifetime members in Rakkasan.
Gary was awarded the Trooper of the Year in 2017 (Called the Static Line Award) and accepted his award in Atlanta, GA at the all airborne awards banquet. This award is a big honor and it was personally presented to him by Lieutenant General Anderson (a currently serving 3 star lieutenant) who flew in from Washington DC. During that same ceremony, George Dumas, a Greek immigrant, 101 years old, was awarded the oldest living paratrooper veteran, but not the 187th. Lieutenant General Anderson knelt on his knee for 20 minutes and talked to George about his story. He immigrated at 11; was without a family; had a family vouch for him at Ellis Island; no papers; lived on the streets of NYC; washed dishes and swept hair in a barber shop until he could join the Army; became a USA Citizen; was awarded 3 purple hearts in combat; he was in the Army for life. Gary said it was his greatest moment to hear George Dumas tell his story and see Anderson respecting him.
In 2019, Gary received another award, Rakkasan of the Year (Distinguished Member of the Regiment at a banquet in Hopkinsville, KY. He will be on this Distinguished list forever. Ruth Davis, his wife, was Lady Rakkasan of the Year in 2018.
In one final story, Gary met up years later with Robert Rivas, his unit buddy, who actually was from CA and traveled several times to Rockford while they were at Ft. Campbell. They kept in touch but Rivas died. Rivas became a long shoreman in Los Angeles. In 2017 Gary and Ruth visited his widow, and they all went to the cemetery. Then Rivas’ son brought out the veteran’s Rakkasan flag and presented it to Gary, his pal, and said that his father asked that the flag be given to Gary after his death. Gary has flown that very flag in Rockford. When Gary dies, the flag will go back to Rivas’ son in CA. This was a very touching moment for Gary.
Gary and Ruth enjoy their time visiting with Rakkasan friends all over the United States.
To learn more about Rakkasan, go to rakkasanassociation.org