Southeast Missouri residents say goodbye to fallen soldier
PORTAGEVILLE -- Not a lot of people in Portageville remember Major Gloria Dean Davis.
"She's been gone from here for a long time," said Glendell Hamilton of Marston, a longtime family friend who has known Davis, 47, since she was born.
But that didn't stop them from going to Davis' memorial service Saturday. Streets were packed to say goodbye to the Portageville soldier, who had served in the military for over 18 years.
Davis died Dec. 12 at Camp Victory in Iraq. Her death is under investigation by the Department of Defense, which said her death was from a "noncombat" incident.
Davis had a military funeral at Arlington National Cemetery Dec. 22. "It was beautiful," said her mother, Annie Washington. "They really gave her a home going -- it was nice to see."
But Davis' large family wasn't all able to make the trip to Arlington, Va. So for the past two weeks, Washington and others worked to plan a memorial internment at DeLisle Funeral Home in Portageville. "As dedicated as she was to the military, all of her family needed to see it," said Tina DeLisle, co-owner of DeLisle Funeral Home, who also went to school with Davis.
Washington, who helped make the arrangements, wanted to give that opportunity to the family. "We've got a lot of people in Memphis and stuff and all of them weren't able to fly to D.C.," she said. "I thought it would be good to have a memorial here for the rest of her family -- this is her home."
Pride for Davis' many accomplishments run deep in Portageville.
"To be a black lady from a small town in the Bootheel and become a major in the U.S. military was an honor to her, her family and to us that knew her," Hamilton said. "She will be a great loss to this community, her family, the D.C. area and the military."
Davis is remembered as a kind, goal- and family-oriented person.
Mrs. DeLisle remembers walking home from school with Davis and a few other children. "We would laugh the whole way because of her," she said. "She was so funny -- she was just a great girl."
Family was also important to Davis, DeLisle recalled. "She would send home tapes of her reading stories" to her granddaughter, she said. DeLisle also works at a flower shop in town, and said Davis was constantly sending floral arrangements to her mother.
"There wasn't a holiday that I didn't get a bouquet -- I didn't even have to look at the card and I knew it was from her," Washington said. In fact, the Thanksgiving arrangement is still on her table. "I don't know how to get rid of it."
Davis, who graduated when she was 16, "always knew where she wanted to be in life and she set her goal to be someone," Hamilton said. "She was determined to go to college and get degrees."
Hamilton also said Davis gave generously to Good Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Marston.
Saturday's service was the result of quite a bit of planning of several individuals and groups.
"We've been on the phones constantly for the past week," said George DeLisle, a friend and co-owner of DeLisle Funeral Home. In addition to family and friends, the funeral home worked with the Missouri State Highway Patrol, New Madrid County and Pemiscot County Sheriff's departments, the National Guard, Sikeston Department of Public Safety and Portageville and Kennett Fire Departments, to name a few, on the service. Other Bootheel towns that have lost soldiers have lent a hand, DeLisle said.
Sydney Williams, police chief in Marston, who is a friend of Washington, also helped coordinate Saturday's events, mainly the dinner following the service. "I went out and asked different merchants and people to donate money for the memorial and food for the dinner," she said. "They have been a lot of help."
The Missouri Military Funeral Honors Programs played a role, by providing the military ceremony, including the pallbearing, firing of volleys, playing of "Taps" and providing the color guard. Adjutant General of the Missouri National Guard King Sidwell, presented the flag to the next of kin.
Flags were posted from Main Street to Highway 61, said Joe Walters, street commissioner for the city of Portageville. And, on the procession route from Portageville High School to DeLisle Funeral Home Saturday, another 40 flags waved in the wind, providing a final salute to the officer.