Relatives go by busload to bury soldier known for keeping family together

The Baltimore Sun

The charter bus was parked on Barclay Street, its engine running, as members of the large Kelly-Davis family piled in for a trip like none they had ever taken together.

Felicia Kelly-Crum was outside counting heads in the frigid air. "Where's Bernard?" she asked. "Where's Bernard?"

A rueful smile crossed her face. This was usually the job of her brother, Anthony Davis, who was so good at rounding up the family for an adventure. But two weeks ago, Davis, father of five and master sergeant in the Army, had been killed in Iraq. This family trip was to Dumfries, Va., for his funeral and Arlington National Cemetery for his burial.

Sergeant Davis grew up in East Baltimore with 16 brothers and sisters. A dozen of them still live in the city, with their children and grandchildren. Kelly-Crum wanted them all to attend, but many lacked cars.

She was pricing buses and vans last week when the Central Maryland chapter of the American Red Cross called and offered help. The Red Cross contacted Morgan's Bus Co. of Upper Marlboro, which provided a bus and a driver for free. The Red Cross also bought a block of rooms at the Super 8 Motel in Dumfries.

That meant anyone who wanted to go could go. And everyone wanted to go. About 50 family members boarded the bus Monday afternoon for the journey. They thought of when Sergeant Davis rented a bus to take them all to a family reunion at Fort Meade last year.

"He never wanted to exclude anyone," Kelly-Crum, 39, said of her older brother, who was 43 when he was killed while distributing food and water to residents of the town of Biaj. "That's been his and mine - to keep the family together. If you keep branching off here and there, where's the history? We started off so close when we were younger, and we stayed close."

After the Lord's Prayer and a moment of silence for Sergeant Davis, and Bernard Davis' arrival, the bus was on its way.

While the children watched Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End and ate from the snack packages provided by the Red Cross (fruit snacks, Chex mix, animal crackers), the adults reflected on Sergeant Davis, who had spent 26 years in the military and had decided, they said, that this tour would be his last.

"He was well-loved by the little ones and he held the big ones together," said George Lacey, 68, a brother-in-law who bowled with him every time he came home on leave. Sergeant Davis lived in Triangle, Va., with his wife, Anna, an Army major, and his four youngest children, ages 20 to 9.

He deployed to Iraq in May as part of a team that trained and mentored Iraqi army members and delivered food and relief supplies to villages. He helped rebuild schools and, with his 18-year-old daughter, Diana, organized a shipment of soccer balls from the United States to be distributed to Iraqi children. He always volunteered for the humanitarian missions, fellow soldiers said.

"He was aware of the dangers, but he wanted to give hope to the Iraqi people," Maj. Gen. David B. Lacquement said at the funeral Monday night at First Mount Zion Baptist Church in Dumfries. "Tony was truly selfless. He believed the key to winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people was through the children."

Sergeant Davis' flag-draped casket was at the front of the church, surrounded by dozens of red poinsettias and a nativity scene set out for Christmas. Lacquement presented Anna Davis with her husband's second bronze star, symbolized by an oak leaf cluster, and the Purple Heart, among other citations and medals he had received.

After joining the Army in 1982, Sergeant Davis served in both Persian Gulf Wars, Afghanistan and posts all over the world. His siblings said he loved the military, but he also cherished his time at home. He would spend hours bowling or fishing with his family, and when he called home he always asked after his relatives before ever talking about himself.

It didn't stop them from worrying, though.

"I used to watch the TV every day to see if my brother's name was going to be on there," said Albert Kelly, 36. He woke up with that thought in his head, and turned on the news every morning at 6, fearing the worst. After his brother was killed Nov. 25, the family learned the next day and notified one another in a series of phone calls.

Their mother, the late Ida Davis-Kelly, often had the children volunteer at St. Frances Academy in Baltimore, where they went to school, and that spirit carried over into Sergeant Davis' humanitarian work in Iraq.

"That was how our mother raised us," Albert Kelly said, sitting in the lobby of the Super 8, waiting for the bus before the funeral. "So him doing that was no surprise."

After the two-hour service, the family hardly had time to sleep before the bus arrived at 5:30 a.m. yesterday. Driver Barry Taylor, who owns Morgan's bus company and volunteered himself for the job, drove the family to the Baptist church to join a 15-car motorcade.

Led by eight police motorcycles, the motorcade took Interstate 95 to the burial. Even though it was rush hour, the highway was shut down briefly while the procession made its way to the entrance of an HOV lane. Dozens of police cruisers and motorcycles then stopped traffic along the 25-mile route.

"Everything that they do - they owe my brother this," Kevin Kelly said.

The Washington Monument came into view, and then the Pentagon, the side that was hit by American Flight 77 on Sept. 11, and at last Arlington National Cemetery. In a family waiting room, a niece was making a video. She walked around with her camera, asking family members to speak about her Uncle Tony. "Tell him I love you," said his sister Barbara Flowers. "You kept peace in the family and I love you so much."

Another sister, Cynthia Davis-Lacey, and Sergeant Davis' oldest daughter, Keona Lowe, were presented with folded American flags. Davis-Lacey said she would keep it in a glass case, with an engraving bearing her brother's name, in the dining room of her home on Barclay Street.

Later, under overcast skies at the grave site, soldiers firing a salute and a bugler standing amid the rows of modest headstones honored Sergeant Davis. His widow was presented the crisply folded flag that had draped her husband's coffin. The secretary of the Army, Pete Geren, knelt down to offer condolences. Then Anna Davis, her children, and Sergeant Davis' brothers and sisters led a long line of mourners who tossed white carnations onto the coffin before it was lowered into the earth.

The relatives from Baltimore filed back on the bus. They drove first to Dumfries, where the church provided lunch, and then began the long ride home. Some people slept, and some no doubt dreamed of the brother they would not see again.

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