It is with deep regret I inform you of the passing of Rear Admiral Cabell Seal Davis, Jr. U.S. Navy (Retired) on 9 August 2021 at age 95. Rear Admiral Davis enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve in April 1944, graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1947, and served as a surface line officer and engineering duty officer until his retirement in July 1979 as commander of Charleston Naval Shipyard. In multiple assignments, he played a key role in the construction of the five Tarawa-class amphibious assault ships (LHA).
Cabell Davis enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve during World War II on 21 April 1944. He received an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy, entering in June 1944 with the wartime-accelerated class of 1948. On 6 June 1947, Midshipman Davis was commissioned an ensign. Ensign Davis’ first assignment was as communications officer on attack cargo ship USS Virgo (AKA-20), making multiple voyages to the Far East carrying supplies for bases in the Philippines, Marianas, Japan, and China, with side trips to Korea, Okinawa, and the Admiralty Islands. In July 1948, Davis transferred to the Naval School (Electronics) at Naval Station Treasure Island, San Francisco, for duty under instruction.
In January 1949, Ensign Davis reported to large aircraft carrier USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVB-42). Promoted to lieutenant (junior grade) in June 1950, he served as a gunnery officer, an engineering officer, and electronics officer. Franklin D. Roosevelt remained on the U.S. East Coast and deployed to the Mediterranean during the Korean War to guard against any Soviet offensive action in Europe. During this period, she became the first carrier to take nuclear weapons to sea, and launched a twin-engine P2V-3C Neptune on a 26-hour, 5,060 mile flight, the longest ever from the deck of a carrier.
In June 1951, Lieutenant (j.g.) Davis reported as a student to Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California, graduating in June 1954 with a Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering. Promoted to lieutenant in July 1953, he reported in June 1954 to escort destroyer USS Robert L. Wilson (DDE-847) as engineering officer, deploying to the Caribbean and Mediterranean. In September 1955, Davis reported to Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Portsmouth, Virginia, for duty as ship superintendent.
He was promoted to lieutenant commander in June 1958 and was assigned the same month to the staff of Commander-in-Chief U.S. Atlantic Fleet (CINCLANTFLT) as assistant ship material officer for combatant ships, with additional duty in the same position on the joint Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Atlantic Command (CINCLANT) and NATO Commander-in-Chief Western Atlantic (CINCWESTLANT) staffs. In March 1961, Lieutenant Commander Davis reported to Norfolk-based destroyer tender USS Sierra (AD-18) as repair officer. Sierra served as flagship for Destroyer Flotilla FOUR and later Cruiser-Destroyer Flotilla FOUR. Davis was promoted to commander in May 1963.
In September 1963, Commander Davis reported to Bureau of Ships (BuShips) in Washington DC, and served in a series of positions: assistant for boats and small landing craft, landing ships, Boat and Amphibious Branch; assistant for maintenance and conversion, Cruiser-Destroyer Branch, Ship Division; assistant project manager for Conversions and Anti-Submarine Warfare Ship Acquisition Project; and as special assistant and administrative aide to Commander, Naval Ships System Command (the new name for BuShips in 1966).
Promoted to captain on 1 July 1968, he reported the same month to the staff of Commander, Amphibious Force Atlantic as assistant chief of staff for engineering. In July 1971, Captain Davis returned to Naval Ship Systems Command, Washington, DC, as project manager, General Purpose Assault Ship (LHA) Acquisition Project, with additional duty to Major Surface Combatant Ship Project (PM18) as deputy project manager for LHA, Naval Material Command Headquarters. The first Tarawa-class LHA (Tarawa) was laid down in 1971; all five ships were built at Pascagoula, Mississippi, and commissioned between 1976 and 1980. In April 1974, Davis assumed duty as supervisor of Shipbuilding Conversion and Repair, U.S. Navy, in Pascagoula, Mississippi. This assignment included supervision of the construction of the Tarawa LHAs. In March 1975, he was designated a rear admiral for duty in a billet commensurate with the rank.
In May 1975, Davis assumed command of Charleston Naval Shipyard, South Carolina, with additional duty as supervisor of shipbuilding, Naval Base, Charleston, and staff of the Sixth Naval District. He was promoted to rear admiral on 1 July 1975. During his tenure, he was credited with taking the shipyard from worst to the best of the then eight naval shipyards. He also implemented a rigorous new program of industrial health and safety. Rear Admiral Davis retired on 1 July 1979.
Rear Admiral Davis’ awards include the Legion of Merit, Navy Commendation Medal, Navy Expeditionary Medal (Cuba), American Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal, Navy Occupation Service Medal Europe, and National Defense Service Medal (two awards).
I have no information on Rear Admiral Davis’ post-retirement activities. Services will be held at Arlington National Cemetery at a date to be determined next spring.
Described as a “truly kind and gentle soul,” Rear Admiral Cabell Davis nevertheless had the ability to get things done in the not very kind and gentle environment of a shipyard. Perhaps it was his reputation for treating people decently that led the shipyard under his command to go from worst to first during his tenure. This was definitely a case of leadership making a difference, and his exemplary leadership was on full display throughout his career. Much of what he did would fall under the category of “thankless” as exemplified by the paucity of personal awards, which very much typified those years when restricted line communities were not recognized with the same number of awards given to their operational counterparts. Nevertheless, without the vital work in the shipyards, no ship gets built or remains at sea. Rear Admiral Davis’ role in the construction of the Tarawa-class amphibious assault ships is particularly noteworthy, as those ships provided the backbone of U.S. Navy and Marine Corps amphibious response capability during numerous regional engagement exercises as well as crisis and combat operations. The latter include Desert Storm, Uphold Democracy, Allied Force, Enduring Freedom, and Iraqi Freedom. The five ships were decommissioned between 2005 and 2015. The new America-class LHAs incorporate many of the design features of Tarawa and benefitted from shipyard lessons learned. Rear Admiral Davis definitely left his mark on the U.S. Navy, and the Navy and nation are better, and grateful, for his efforts (and those of his family in supporting him)—another great officer now missing from our wardroom.
Rest in Peace, Admiral Davis.