LINWOOD — Marvin Davidson was only a teenager when a Japanese kamikaze plane crashed into his U.S. Navy ship and burst into flames – but the last thing on his mind was fear.
“A war is fought with young kids because we don’t know any better,” he said, taking a long pause to collect his thoughts as he sat on the tan couch in his home. “We were young and we were too busy fighting the fire to know any difference.”
Davidson, 93, paged through a manila folder spilling over with black-and-white pictures of smoke billowing from the USS LST 738 as he spoke about the harrowing experience and his service as an engineer in the Navy during World War II.
“That black smoke is us burning,” he said, holding up a picture that was taken from the deck of a nearby American ship. “I’m lucky I’m still here.”
Davidson had to jump off the amphibious vessel, breaking three ribs when he smacked into the Pacific Ocean near the island of Leyte in the Philippines, then had to tread water with his fellow shipmates for a few hours before being picked up by a patrol torpedo boat, or PT.
He is very matter-of-fact when he describes fighting the flames and swimming away so as not to get caught in the suction of the sinking ship, but his speech has a dreamy cadence that makes the experience sound like it had happened a very long distance away in both time and space. He repeats, “And that was it,” smiling, as if the story isn’t anything to fawn over.
“When the plane did hit, it hit the main water line, and there was no water to fight the fire,” he said. “It’s scary now, but it wasn’t scary then. You were too busy trying to keep alive.”
There’s a small, rectangular den off Davidson’s living room with two easy chairs and two desks. The past and the present are spread out across the walls. His honorable discharge is framed, and so are his medals and a black and white portrait of his teenage self, fresh in his Navy uniform. Speckled between them are pictures of his three children; his voice swells with pride as he points out a photo of his son and two daughters.
In another photo, dozens of young men stand in uniform; it’s his class from diesel school. There are photos of him and his wife, Betty. Davidson met her after 1946, when he was discharged from the Navy and had returned to his hometown of Atlantic City. There are a couple snapshots of him on a boat, holding up a caught fish.
He’s a Navy man and a family man.
When Davidson came out of the military, he served his apprenticeship in the family’s plumbing and heating business – a business his father started in 1919 and has since been passed down to Davidson’s son. He and Betty have been married for 70 years and have eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
“I love this country. I’d die for this country,” Davidson said. “And that was it — I’m still here.”