An Army master sergeant who grew up in Baltimore and graduated from St. Frances Academy was killed Tuesday while distributing food on a humanitarian mission in Biaj, Iraq, the Department of Defense said.
Master Sgt. Anthony Davis, 43, had served in the Army for 26 years and was planning to retire when his tour ended, said his brothers and sisters, who gathered yesterday in Baltimore's Harwood neighborhood to remember the man who loved the Army so much they called him " G.I. Joe."
Sergeant Davis was married and had five children and one grandchild. Living in the town of Triangle in Northern Virginia, his life was intertwined with the military. His wife, Anna Davis, is an Army major based at the Pentagon. And his 26-year-old daughter, Keona Rowe, also has served.
"He died doing what he loved to do," said Adrienne Kelly, Sergeant Davis' sister. She said her brother, one of 17 children, didn't talk about the dangers he faced in Iraq. He didn't want the family to worry.
On this tour, which began in May, Sergeant Davis trained and mentored Iraqi army members and delivered food and relief supplies to poor villages. He was part of a team that assessed schools and then planned renovations and organized supplies. His daughter Diana, 18, collected soccer balls to ship to her father, who distributed them to children on his missions.
This month, the News & Messenger newspaper in Northern Virginia published an article about the father-daughter effort.
In an e-mail to the paper, Sergeant Davis wrote, "We must remain vigilant and pray that we a[re] getting through to the younger generation, who will one day inherit this nation, so that they remember us as peaceful and encouraging, not intruders and invaders."
On Tuesday, Sergeant Davis was distributing water and food in Biaj, about 250 miles north of Baghdad, when he was shot and killed by an Iraqi security force soldier, the Defense Department said. Some news reports have indicated that a U.S. Marine was also killed and that several Iraqi civilians in line for relief supplies were injured, but an Army spokesman could not confirm that yesterday.
"He was Army in every sense of the word," said Jorge Tardi, Sergeant Davis' brother-in-law. "He believed in our effort over there in Iraq. It wasn't just a job. It wasn't just a benefit. It wasn't just hardship pay. He was a patriot."
Sergeant Davis' family learned of his death Wednesday. The large family usually comes together for Thanksgiving every year, but his sister said they didn't have the energy for it this time.
"We couldn't bring ourselves to cook. I couldn't get out of bed," said Ms. Kelly. She remembered going to her brother's house in Virginia for Thanksgiving last year, when he barbecued. When Sergeant Davis couldn't make it home for Thanksgiving, he would send everyone cards, she said.
Felicia Kelly-Crum, another sister, said her brother called her several weeks ago to make sure he had everyone's addresses. They expect to be getting the cards any day now.
"He was good-hearted. He always looked out for us," said Rudolph Davis, who would often bowl with his brother when he visited home. It was important to Sergeant Davis that his family be together, his siblings said.
In summer 2007, after his mother's death, he organized a family reunion at Fort Meade. He rented a bus to pick up family members who didn't have cars. At a park on the base, more than 200 relatives swam, played horseshoes and softball, and took turns in a dunking tank, said Ms. Kelly.
"My mom would have been proud of him," she said.
Family members say Sergeant Davis had been planning to retire when he passed his 25-year mark in the service. He agreed to one more tour in Iraq, though, before coming home to spend time with his family.
In addition to daughters Keona and Diana, Sergeant Davis has two sons, Jeral, 20, and Mark Anthony, 9; another daughter, Kayla, 17; and a grandson, 4.
"He had given the Army all his time," said sister Verna Davis, "and he was ready to retire."