John L. Davis, 89, Chesapeake pilot

October 07, 2006

Capt. John L. Davis, a retired Chesapeake Bay pilot and model builder, died of pneumonia Sunday at his home in Murrells Inlet, S.C. The former Bel Air resident was 89.

Captain Davis was born and raised in Elgin, Ill., and after leaving high school joined the Coast Guard during the 1930s and later was in the merchant marine.

He served as third mate on the maiden voyage of the Patrick Henry, the first Liberty ship to be constructed in the nation and launched in 1941 at the Bethlehem-Fairfield shipyard in Baltimore.

"His second voyage on the Patrick Henry was in 1942 when the ship was part of [convoy] PQ18," said Capt. Brian H. Hope, a fellow Chesapeake Bay pilot and Liberty ship historian. "And on that voyage, the Russian-bound convoy was attacked by a line of German torpedo bombers."

"J.L. said the convoy was ordered to turn and the torpedoes went right of the bow of the Patrick Henry, hitting a nearby ship carrying ammunition, leaving nothing of the ship," Captain Hope added.

The German attack continued for three days, resulting in the loss of 12 vessels.

After his missions in World War II, Captain Davis joined the Association of Maryland Pilots in 1948. The association is made up of the licensed captains who steer ships through the Chesapeake's waters. He retired in 1986.

"He loved his work," said the former Carmela Cox, his wife of 32 years.

After retiring and moving to Murrells Inlet, Captain Davis spent his time building intricately detailed scale models of sailing ships.

Services were private.

Also surviving are four sons, John E. Davis of Fairfield, Pa., James M. Davis of Westminster, Alan P. Davis of Springdale, Ark., and Rodney W. Davis of Taneytown; a daughter, Alison M. Malachowski of Westminster; two sisters, Irene Ruppert of Joppa and Marion Cole of Dunkirk; 12 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

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