Marine General and Soldier Inducted Into Little League's Hall of Fame
By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample
American Forces Press Service
WILLIAMSPORT, Pa., Aug. 24, 2003 Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Army Sgt. 1st Class Wilbert Davis now share something with baseball greats Cal Ripken Jr., Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan. They are now both members of the Little League World Series Hall of Excellence.
Pace, who traveled to this mecca of Little League Baseball for induction ceremonies Aug. 23, was joined by the family of slain soldier Davis, killed in action in Iraq. They received honors just before the U.S. finals championship game of Little League Baseball.
Pace received the honor for playing Little League ball for a Teaneck, N.J., team in his childhood more than four decades ago. He said he was on his neighborhood team, which was sponsored by a local pharmacy. He said he never had great skills for the game, but that he just "wanted to play" the game.
The vice chairman said Little League had given him an opportunity to succeed, an opportunity that is being passed on to other players. "Over time I learned if I wanted play, I had to go to practice and practice on my own, and do all the things I needed to be successful," Pace said. "I've got to believe that the young people today are learning that."
But the evening spotlight clearly was on Davis, a member of the 3rd Infantry Division, who died April 3 during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was driving a Humvee that overturned in a canal in Baghdad, killing him and Washington Post columnist Michael Kelly.
In 1975 Davis had helped lead his Belmont Heights Little League team from Tampa, Fla., to a second-place finish in the World Series title game, losing to a team from Lakewood, N.J., 4-3. According to Little League information, Davis had pitched 13 winning games that year to help his team advance to the title contest.
"This is really a nice honor," Pace said. "First of all, it's really an honor to be (inducted) at the same time as (Sgt.) Davis. And I mean that in all sincerity. He's the Little League model of character, courage and loyalty So to be honored at the same time as someone like that makes this very special to me."
After pausing briefly to gather his emotions, Pace said earlier that morning he and his wife had walked down to Arlington National Cemetery, a few minutes' stroll from his quarters at Fort Myer, Va. They'd gone to visit Section 60, Headstone 7867, the site Davis was laid to rest.
"It's important to say thanks to folks like that," the vice chairman said. "And it's important to rededicate myself on days like this to try and provide the kind of leadership that young men like that deserve."
Robert Davis, Wilbert's brother, said the two things his brother valued in life were "Little League baseball and the military."
"I can say that today really fulfilled his dreams and his vision about life," Robert said, "he being recognized today as a soldier and a Little League baseball player, two of the most important things in his life."
Willie Mae Lane, Davis' mother, had returned to Williamsport this occasion for the first time since 1975. She said she remembered sitting nervously in the stands watching her 12-year-old son pitch in the Little League World Series title game that year.
"He was such a small kid, and the other pitcher was much larger than he was," she said. "He had been through so much and he had to win so many games to get this far. I was just so nervous and praying he would do well."
Lane said it felt good to know that Little League baseball thought that so much to bestow the Hall of Excellence honor on her son. "I don't know how to thank them enough for doing this," she noted.
Pace and Davis' family both received a framed copy of their Little League rosters and an engraved statue inducting them into the Hall of Excellence for Little League Baseball.
Steve Keener, league president and chief executive officer, said, "We can only hope and pray that the only sacrifices that our sons and daughters will have to make are the bunt and the fly balls on the Little League field. We can never express the gratitude we have for soldiers like Wilbert Davis who paid the ultimate price."