For decades, families lovingly maintained the graves. The Davis family, which kept Rodney's plot free of grass and weeds for many years, participates in cemetery work days.
"It's about your integrity and history," says Edgar Ray, a schoolteacher and Rodney Davis' nephew. "We used to do this as a family event on Saturday. I learned to use the lawn mower and Weed Eater down here."
By the late 1970s, many African-American families started moving away from Pleasant Hill, which had been severed by I-75. Pride in the neighborhood eroded, and it became known for crime and drug use, even in Linwood Cemetery. One street is dubbed "Bucket of Blood" because of violence.
As is the case in many cemeteries, the years have been unkind to Linwood. Without full-time, professional maintenance, markers and monuments sank into the ground. Some of the acreage is now forested, the undergrowth almost impenetrable.
"Unless you had a family come over and care for (a site), it wasn't happening," says Debra Ray, Rodney's younger sister. She lives in the family home on Neal Avenue, less than a mile from the cemetery.
Amir Hassan, a community activist, said it isn't that people in Pleasant Hill don't care about the burial ground. "It has left their consciousness."
The Davis family at one point was asked whether they wanted Rodney reinterred at Arlington. They declined. "Mother would say if Rodney wasn't there nobody would care about the cemetery," says Ray.
The city eventually declared 14-acre Linwood Cemetery "abandoned and neglected."
The last private owner put little effort into maintenance, according to a preservation plan prepared for the city of Macon and the nonprofit group, formed a decade ago, that now cares for the cemetery.
The Macon Cemetery Preservation Corp. faces mammoth challenges, from groundskeeping to fund-raising. The few dozen hardy volunteers know that making Linwood a neighborhood asset again will take time.
Volunteers and Marines are in a constant battle against nature's inexorable tide. "Acres and acres of this cemetery literally were under jungle," says Warr.
Eventually, leader Alice Jackson says, the group hopes to be able to provide perpetual care for the entire cemetery.
With a $15,000 budget, the cemetery preservation group depends on monthly work parties that draw a range of volunteers, including Junior ROTC students. Help has come from community grants, tools and occasional local government and prison maintenance crews. Monthly cleanups have uncovered dozens of graves swallowed by vegetation.
"Progress has been made," says Jackson.
While the preservation group has some records, it doesn't yet have a complete inventory of the graves at Linwood, says Yolanda Latimore, Jackson's daughter.
"It's really hard to tell," she says. "A lot of graves are not marked. Maybe a slab, or maybe a tree. Perhaps a wooden cross or ornament."
Latimore says she would like to see a perimeter fence, a website to raise awareness and the involvement of more young people. There are plans to repair broken grave covers. Latimore's father, brother and other relatives are buried at Linwood.
Some hope the attention to Davis' grave might inspire additional volunteers and prompt the local government, which owns and maintains a nearby cemetery, to do more.
Macon City Council member Larry Schlesinger said the city would like to do more for the historic cemetery, but has been hampered by tight finances during the recession. Better economic times and a current effort to clean up Macon neighborhoods and demolish dilapidated housing should benefit Pleasant Hill, he said.
"Now we have people's attention," Latimore says of the cemetery group's efforts. "We have to use the resources and rich history that is there. We have a lot of work before us."
A war hero's new legacy
Randy Leedom remembers the day the grenade landed in that trench in Vietnam: Rodney Davis was right next to him.
"I jumped to the right," Leedom recalled from his home in Hillsboro, Oregon. Davis crawled on the grenade.
Leedom, who served in Vietnam until April 1968, did not get to know Davis before that day, but he never forgot the sergeant's sacrifice.
A few years ago, Leedom was driving from Florida through Macon and decided to visit the cemetery and Davis' grave. Everything was overgrown, he says.