Ross Davidson, a retired Air Force colonel and combat veteran who was a longtime Carmichael civic booster and leader, died May 5 of complications related to congestive heart failure, his family said. He was 91.
Before settling down to civilian life in Carmichael, Mr. Davidson pursued adventure as a military pilot, war hero and polar explorer. He retired from the Air Force in 1970 as director of operations for the 552nd AWACS Unit at McClellan Air Force Base.
He completed 35 bombing missions during World War II, including two over Normandy on D-Day. During the Cold War, he conducted aerial surveys of remote Arctic regions to set up a line of radar stations from Alaska to Iceland. He accrued a total of more than 1,000 hours of combat flying time in more than 50 types of aircraft, including secret counterintelligence missions over the Ho Chi Minh Trail in the Vietnam War.
"I get bored easily, have a short attention span," he told The Bee in 1982. "That's why I've lived such a varied life."
Mr. Davidson lived as a well-known activist and businessman in Carmichael since 1962. He was a longtime member and leader of the Carmichael Chamber of Commerce, which named him honorary mayor for many years. He was quoted often in news stories about issues in the unincorporated Sacramento County community.
He opened a real estate office on Fair Oaks Boulevard and encouraged other businesses to help improve the neighborhood. For the last 20 years, he organized specialized itineraries as a travel agent and led tour groups around the world.
Mr. Davidson was born in 1921 in rural Alabama near Birmingham, where his father was mail superintendent. A talented trombonist, he won a music scholarship to the University of Alabama and toured with several big bands.
But he tired of one-night gigs in obscure towns and seized a chance to enlist in the Army Air Corps when the United States entered World War II.
"The alternative was teaching music, and I couldn't see myself as the bandmaster in a small, Southern town saying, 'That's nice Orville, that's nice,' " he said in 1982.
Flying with the 92nd Bomb Group in England, Mr. Davidson flew many raids over Germany, including six that ended in crash landings or planes shot out beyond repair. He earned many military honors, including the Legion of Merit, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, eight Air Medals, seven Bronze Star Medals and the Purple Heart.
In 1949, he was named project manager for the military's Distant Early Warning system across the Northern Hemisphere.
Flying mostly alone, he spent six years surveying vast, empty regions of snow, glaciers and ice for a line of radar stations intended to defend against a Soviet attack over the North Pole.
"Looking back, it scares me to death," he said. "No navigational aids, no radio and no one knew where I was."
Mr. Davidson's aviation accomplishments won him induction into the Explorers Club, an exclusive group including Richard E. Byrd, Thor Heyerdahl and Edmund Hillary. He recently was nominated for the National Aviation Hall of Fame, a group of noted aviators, aircraft designers and astronauts.
He had two sons with his wife of 58 years, the former Micky Davis, who died in 2005. He was recognized for public service by the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors, the state Assembly and Senate, and the U.S. House and Senate.
"He loved the community and the people," said his son Mark. "He wanted to give back to where he lived."