Obituary: Lawrence D. David / Celebrated World War II veteran, devoted dentist and family man

March 20, 1924-May 9, 2014

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In May 1945, with World War II nearly over in Europe, combat medic Lawrence David worried about whether he should ship an orchid home to his mother for Mother's Day.

He dreaded the thought of her receiving it while he lay dead somewhere in Germany.

But in the end his mother got the flower.

And Lawrence, a wounded Battle of the Bulge veteran who just weeks earlier had been decorated for crawling through machine-gun fire to save wounded soldiers during the fighting for Leipzig, made it home in one piece.

He went on to live a full life, working for nearly 50 years as a dentist in McKeesport and raising three daughters in West Mifflin with his wife of 63 years, Margaret David.

He died Friday at 90.

Mr. David was among the millions of World War II veterans who came home, went to work and didn't talk much about what they'd seen and endured. That was especially true in his case because he had daughters he wanted to protect.

"I think he didn't want to expose us to that; he didn't want us to worry about him," said Janet David, 61, of West Mifflin. "I know he told my sister that there wasn't ever a day he didn't think about it."

He did open up more in his last years and he enjoyed telling war stories to his grandson, Bryant Fisher, 21, of Johnstown, Pa. He talked of being under fire by snipers while riding on a tank through the streets of Leipzig, for example, but rarely did he reveal anything too specific.

"He always wanted to keep out the grisly details," Mr. Fisher said.

Mr. David was born in 1920 in Brownsville, Fayette County, the son of a grocer, and grew up during the Depression with a twin brother, Lloyd, who also would serve in World War II.

The family moved to Pittsburgh when the boys were young, living in East Liberty and then Shadyside. Lawrence graduated from Peabody High School and attended the University of Pittsburgh for two years before enlisting in the Army in June 1943, serving as a medic with the 69th Infantry Division.

"He said he wanted to be a medic to make sure that the soldiers got back to their mothers," said Janet David.

The 69th shipped off for England in December 1944 and saw its first action in the Battle of the Bulge. In the Hurtgen Forest, Pvt. David was wounded in the leg by shrapnel from a mortar round. The division pushed into Germany and by late March had crossed the Rhine River and advanced on Leipzig.

On April 18, 1945, during an attack on the city, the commander of a rifle company was badly wounded. According to a citation at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum, where Pvt. David was inducted into the Hall of Valor in 1988, he crawled to the man under "murderous machine gun fire" and provided treatment "skillfully and quickly" to save him and others who were wounded.

Cut off from his platoon, he crossed a 75-yard length of street under sniper crossfire to rejoin his unit and render more aid. The 69th took the city the next day and a week later made contact with the Soviet Red Army at Torgau.

After the war ended in early May, there was little cause for celebration, his family said, because Japan had not given up and the men knew they would be sent to the Pacific.

Mr. David often said he didn't think he would have survived.

"He would sort of joke, 'That would have been it for me,' " Mr. David's grandson said.

The atomic bomb ended the war before he had to go.

Mr. David returned home in November 1945 -- decorated with the Silver Star, Bronze Star and Purple Heart -- and went to dental school at the University of Pittsburgh He received his degree in 1950 and married Margaret that year. During the Korean War, the couple lived in Wichita Falls, Texas, where he served as a dental officer in the Air Force Reserve, but he never went overseas.

Mr. David remained in the reserves for 22 years and retired in 1984 as a lieutenant colonel.

When the couple came back to Pittsburgh, they lived for a time in Dormont, where Mr. David worked as a dentist until buying a dental practice in McKeesport in 1957. He and Mrs. David eventually settled in West Mifflin and raised their girls. In all, he practiced dentistry for 49 years, retiring in 1999.

When he wasn't working, Mr. David was a family man. Other than following sports, his only real hobby, his main interest was devoting time and energy to his children.

"He put us all through college," said Janet David of herself and her two sisters, Susan Fisher of Johnstown and Donna Greene of Fountain Valley, Calif.

In his later years, he doted on his four grandchildren, who became the focal point of his life.

A funeral liturgy will be held at 11 a.m. today at St. George Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral in Oakland, followed by burial at Mt. Lebanon Cemetery.


Torsten Ove: tove@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1510.


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