Vietnam War

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During his time as a POW Gen. Mechenbier heroically stood up to the Communist guards, in the Vietnamese camp, who tried in vein to stop the American prisoners from having a weekly prayer service. “You can have no church services,” the camp commander said. “You embarrass us in front of the Russians.”

Gen. Mechenbier’s response, according to another POW was, “It doesn’t matter what you do including killing every one of us, but as long as one man is alive we are having that church service.” He said it so simply, coolly and firmly, recounts this same POW, that the guards knew and the Americans knew that there was going to be no compromise.

Gen. Mechenbier was subsequently beaten for his resistance but did not give in. …The prayer services continued.

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Their may concern was to return with HONOR… Need we say more?

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Lance Cpl. Joseph Panetta, left, meets with his Lima Company captain, Col. John W. Ripley, during a July 2008 reunion in Florida.

by Jeremy Nobile

About 40 years passed since Lance Cpl. Joseph Panetta had seen his Lima Company captain, Col. John W. Ripley, in the jungles of Vietnam.

Considering the length of time and numerous Marines who served under him, Panetta was skeptical Ripley would even recognize him at the July 2008 reunion in Orlando, Fla. for Marines of the 3rd Regiment, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Division — an outfit better known as “Ripley’s Raiders.”

“After those 40-some years, I didn’t expect him to remember me,” Panetta recalled, “but he came right up to me and said, ‘Joe, how ya been?'”

Panetta, who was only 19 when he began his tour in Vietnam, was astonished.

“He said, ‘Joe, I remember you by your eyes,’ and I was stunned,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it.

To read more CLICK HERE.

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Fr._Capodanno.jpgby:  Lawrence P. Grayson 

September 4, 1967, Quong Tin Province, Republic of Vietnam. A routine, pre-dawn, sweeping operation by a Marine company was turning into a major battle with a large force of the North Vietnamese Army. Three additional companies of Marines were committed. Fr. Vincent Capodanno, M.M. was granted permission to accompany the reinforcements, as he knew there would be many wounded and killed.

At 2:45 p.m., two platoons came under heavy fire on one side of a hill. The chaplain, left his relatively safe position on the other side, and raced across an open area

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Father Capodanno praying with the troops.

raked by fire to be near the men. To repel the enemy, tear gas was dropped on the U.S. position. The Marines had gas masks, but Father Capodanno, seeing that a chocking Marine was without one, gave him his. He continued to go to wounded Marines and help them back to the defensive perimeter or administer last rites.

As he ran toward a mortally wounded man, shrapnel from an exploding mortar inflicted multiple wounds to his right arm and leg. Fr. Capodanno, his arm held stiffly at his side, reached the Marine, and prayed with him until he died. Refusing medical aid, the chaplain worked his way over to several other wounded Marines to comfort them.

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Fr. Capodanno (right) comforting a wounded Marine.

A sergeant, who had been wounded five times, lay dazed on an exposed slope. The chaplain reached him and dragged him into a depression to save his life. As the fighting raged, Father Capodanno was wounded a second time, but still refused to leave the battlefield.

About 6:30 p.m., three Marines moved to destroy an enemy machine gun; two were killed and the third wounded. Fr. Capodanno reached the injured man, and as his right hand was useless blessed him with his left. Just then a medic who had been coming to aid the wounded Marine was shot. Father ran to the medic, positioning his body between the medic and the enemy. The machine gunner opened fire killing both men.

Father Capodanno suffered 27 bullet wounds, from his head to his spine. Immediately, news of his death circulated throughout the battlefield, and was radioed to the command center as: “Number 21 is KIA.” Twenty-one is the code for the chaplain.

Fr. Vincent Capodanno had come a long way from his birth on February 13, 1929 to an Italian immigrant family on Staten Island, NY. He was the youngest of ten

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Fr. Vincent R. Capodanno, M.M.

children born to the devout, Catholic family. Although he never spoke of an interest in the priesthood during his early years, he frequently attended daily Mass on his way to a local, public high school. When he graduated, he continued the practice, as he took a job as a clerk in an insurance company and attended night classes at Fordham University. At the age of 20, he decided to become a Maryknoll missioner, and after nine years of study and preparation was ordained.

Two months later, Father and five other Maryknollers were sent to Taiwan. For the next year, he studied the Hakka-Chinese dialect to prepare him for his ministry to this minority group in the mountains of western Taiwan. He spent the remainder of his initial six-year assignment undertaking a variety of responsibilities. Then, after a traditional six-month furlough, he was assigned to Hong Kong. Father Capodanno expressed a desire to return to Taiwan, but was refused. He then requested permission to join the Navy Chaplain Corps and serve with the Marines in Vietnam. This was approved and, in late 1965, he was commissioned a lieutenant. In April 1966, he was assigned to the 7th Marine Regiment, south of Da Nang. As the only Catholic chaplain in the regiment, he had to see to the spiritual needs of the men in three battalions, spread over a wide area.

Father Capodanno lived as close to the combat Marines as possible, spending more time at combat bases, where he knew he was needed, than at the battalion command post. He marched with them, carried the same loads, went on patrol with them, shared his rations, and made himself fully accessible to them. On Sundays, he said Mass at each of the battalions, often traveling from one to the other by helicopter. In 1966, he participated in six combat operations, and was awarded a Bronze Star and a Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry.

Normally, chaplains are transferred from field combat units after six months. Fr. Vincent Capodanno served eight months before being attached to a medical battalion to serve the hospitalized. He longed to be with the field unit again, and often visited his old battalion during its operations. When his year-long tour of duty was coming to an end, he requested a six month extension. It was approved, and he was assigned to the 5th Marine Regiment in the Que Son Valley, where some of the fiercest fighting was going on. He voluntarily joined the officers who “walked the line” at night to visit the forward posts and assure that the defenses were ready. Fr. Capodanno stayed close to the fighting men, comforting them, saying Mass, hearing Confessions, listening to their problems, writing to their families. Then came the fateful day in September.

Fr. Vincent R. Capodanno received the Medal of Honor from his country for his heroism, and has been made a “Servant of God” by his Church for his selflessness towards others. His cause for canonization is being considered.

About the Author: Lawrence P. Grayson is a Visiting Scholar in the School of Philosophy at The Catholic University of America. He also serves as State Director for Pro-Life Activities, Knights of Columbus, Maryland.

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Fr. Charles Joseph Watters

by:  Lawrence P. Grayson

In the early morning hours of November 9, 1967, as American artillery and aircraft pounded an 875-meter-high hill near Dak To, Vietnam, Fr. Charles Watters offered Mass at its base. Many Protestants joined the Catholics for the well-attended service. Soon, the chaplain would accompany these paratroopers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade as they moved against a North Vietnam Army (NVA) unit occupying the hill. The commanding general of the 173rd thought the objective was held by a depleted enemy force that suffered heavy casualties in recent fighting. The occupiers, however, were a fresh NVA regiment of 2,000 soldiers.

At 9:43 am, 330 men in three companies moved out. Companies C and D advanced abreast, while CompVany A was behind to protect the rear. The weather was clear and warm. The advance was slow through the thick, tangled foliage of scrub brush, bamboo and tall trees. Unknown to the Americans, the enemy had been preparing the site for several months, constructing camouflaged bunkers interconnected with trenches and tunnels and storing extensive quantities of supplies. At 10:30 am, with the first troopers a few hundred meters from the crest of the hill, a well-concealed NVA force opened fire with recoilless rifles, automatic weapons, small arms, rockets and hand grenades.

Father Watters moved to the line of contact. When a wounded trooper was standing in shock in front of the assaulting forces, Father raced forward, picked the man up and carried him to safety. Soon after, he ran through intense enemy fire to aid a fallen soldier. The chaplain moved wherever he was needed.

When the fighting began, Company A, which was to the rear, began constructing a landing zone that could be used for resupply and evacuation of the wounded. The work was slow as the company was under occasional fire. Then, at 2:30 pm, enemy troops launched a massive assault from lower on the hill, driving the company upwards toward the other American units. The paratroopers had walked into a carefully prepared ambush, with enemy units above and below them.

With their advance halted, the Americans formed a defensive perimeter, bringing in their injured. As the men pulled back, the chaplain went into “no man’s land,” between the two forces, exposing himself to friendly as well as enemy fire to recover two wounded soldiers.

Celebrating Mass during the war in Vietnam. Father Watters believed his place was always with the fighting men — in the combat zone.

The NVA were now striking from all sides in a well-coordinated attack. The paratroopers were firing intensely, but the NVA continued to come. When the American defensive zone was forced to contract, Father Watters saw several wounded men lying outside of it. Ignoring attempts to restrain him, he left the perimeter three times in the face of automatic weapons and mortar fire to carry and assist injured troopers to safety. Then he moved about, aiding the medics, distributing food and water, speaking words of encouragement, and giving last rites to the dying.

With the three companies now in a common defensive area, the several command posts and the wounded were placed in the middle. For several hours, the Americans fought off the enemy. The high expenditure of ammunition and lack of water made resupply essential, but heavy enemy fire made it difficult. Six helicopters were hit and driven away before one finally dropped needed supplies at 5:50 pm.

As the enemy assault intensified, U.S. air strikes and artillery were called in, but they had little effect because of the dense foliage. Then, just after dark, at 6:58 pm, a Marine Corps fighter-bomber released two 500-pound bombs destined for the edge of the American perimeter. One of them struck the upper part of a tree located near the center of the American position and exploded. Fragments of the bomb were showered over the area which contained the combined command group, the wounded, and the medics. It killed 42 men, including the chaplain, and wounded 45 others. This was one of the worst friendly-fire incidents of the Vietnam War.

Charles Joseph Watters was born in Jersey City, N.J., on January 17, 1927. After attending Seton Hall University, he went to Immaculate Conception Seminary, and was ordained a priest in 1953. While serving in several parishes in New Jersey, he earned a commercial pilot’s license, and then in 1962 joined the Air Force National Guard. Three years later, Father enlisted in the Army as a chaplain, successfully completed airborne training and was assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade, nicknamed the Sky Soldiers.

In June 1966, Father Watters, now a major, began a twelve-month tour of duty in Vietnam. He believed his place was with the fighting men, and so when a unit he was attached to rotated to the rear, he would join another unit in combat. He was constantly in motion, saying Mass, tending the wounded, joking with the men and giving spiritual guidance. Fr. Charles Joseph Watters celebrating Mass in the combat zone during the Vietnam War, shortly before his death. Father Watters with his chaplain’s assistant saying Mass shortly before his death.

In February 1967, he took part in Operation Junction City, which included the only combat jump of the Vietnam War. This helped endear him to the men, who knew he would risk his life with them. During this tour of duty, he was awarded an Air Medal and a Bronze Star with a V for valor.

When his tour ended, he extended for another six months. After the friendly-fire incident in which Father Watters was killed, the Americans took Hill 875, and significantly crippled the fighting effectiveness of the North Vietnam units they fought. Fr. Charles Joseph Watters was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, and has had schools, a bridge, a Knights of Columbus council, and the Army Chaplain’s School named after him.

 

 

About the Author: Lawrence P. Grayson is a Visiting Scholar in the School of Philosophy at The Catholic University of America. He also serves as State Director for Pro-Life Activities, Knights of Columbus, Maryland.

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The grave of Medal of Honor Recipient Pfc. David Nash. St. Mary of the Woods Cemetery, Whitesville, Kentucky.

It occurred to me after I posted the moving story Sergeant Rafael Peralta how some people might find it hard to believe that an American Serviceman would do such like jumping on grenade.

However, this is not an uncommon thing in the American Armed Forces. I grew up in Owensboro, Kentucky, for example, and will always remember the time a relative took me to visit the memorial for Pfc. David Nash, in nearby Whitesville. Very much like Sgt. Peralta and Michael Monsoor, this 21 year old young man, who was in the prime of his life, also jumped on a grenade to save the lives of his fellow soldiers during the Vietnam War. It was hard for me to believe that tiny little Whitesville, Kentucky produced such a man and I don not hesitate to say it gave caused a flood of emotion, and no small amount of pride, to stand there and read about his deeds.

Relatives say Jason never regained consciousness after sustaining a head injury when he jumped on a grenade, April 14, in the Iraqi city of Karbala.

I had the privilege of meeting Dan and Debbie Dunham at a recent event. Their 22 year old son Cpl. Jason Dunham also received the Medal of Honor posthumously, for throwing himself on a grenade in 2004 during the war in Iraq. When I told Mrs. Dunham about this blog and my desire to recognize and celebrate the heroism of American fighting men she emphatically responded, “Keep it up, we need to tell their stories.”

You might think I have run out of names, but I have not.

Nineteen year old Pfc. Ross McGinnis also joined the hallowed ranks of those who gave their lives so that others might live and he did so in exactly the same manner. Take time to look at the picture of him on the front page of this website and what you will see is a smiling young kid, bursting with life. Yet this young man accomplished a man size feat, on December 4, 2006, when he chose to give his life for others. Lastly there is Medal of Honor recipient, Jack Lucas who covered two live grenades, during the WWII battle for Iwo Jima. Although one of the grenades was a dud, Jack Lucas absorbed the explosion of the other and ultimately saved those in the trench with him. He was only 17 at the time, but miraculously survived to tell the story.

Stop for a moment and reflect on the unselfishness it takes to perform such an act and the frequency with which Americans have done this.

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colorado lottery

 

 

The author with Sammy Davis at his home in Southern Indiana

by Norman Fulkerson

This is the story of Samuel L. Davis who earned the Medal of Honor for his actions during the Vietnam War. When his 42-man unit was attacked by a 1500 man Vietcong battalion, he refused to give up. After suffering a broken back and perforated kidney, he was not only able to repel the enemy, but carry three men to safety, AT THE SAME TIME. One of the defining moments in his life was the noble way he endured the ungrateful treatment upon his return home.

Bowling Alley
Born November 1, 1946 in Dayton, Ohio, Sammy Davis’ family eventually moved to southern Indiana where he graduated from Mooresville High School. During his junior year, he worked in the lumber industry taking down 200-foot white pines. This not only provided pocket money, but also contributed to an upper body physique one commonly associates with lumberjacks. All in all, Sammy was pretty much your garden variety, hard-working, Midwestern boy living an average existence in America’s heartland.

Colonel Roger Donlon, on the day he received the Medal of Honor, was an inspiration for Sammy Davis

All of that changed, during an evening with friends at the local bowling alley. Above the din of smashing pins, Sammy’s attention was momentarily drawn away from the game to watch a news item that piqued his interest: Colonel Roger Donlon was being awarded the Medal of Honor by President Lyndon Johnson, for his heroism in Vietnam. It was not so much the fame and glory of the event that attracted Sammy, but the way Colonel Donlon stood so straight and tall as he received our nation’s highest honor.

“I want to grow up to be just like him,” he said. “I want my daddy to be proud of me.” It did not take long for him to act on this good inspiration. At seventeen, he decided to join the Army. Before he left for basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, his father who had fought in World War II looked at him and said, “Son, now it’s your time to serve.” After finishing advanced artillery training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma he was sent to Vietnam in March of 1967 as a Private First Class.

Eight months later he would accomplish a feat that would make his father and the nation very proud.

“Go, Kill the GI!”
For a small-town boy from Indiana, war was a different experience. Three days after arriving into Vietnam, he received a baptism of fire when the Long Binh ammunition dump was blown up by member of the North Vietnamese Army (NVA). It was the largest such storage facility in the world at that time. Private Davis or “Dave,” as his fellow soldiers called him, remembered the experience of unexploded eight inch rounds landing all around their compound. Although this caused him no small amount of alarm, it was nothing compared to the life-defining battle which occurred later that same year.

Private Davis in Vietnam the year he earned the Medal of Honor

Sammy Davis in Vietnam, the year he earned his Medal of Honor

On November 15, Private Davis, forty-one other soldiers and four 105mm howitzers were dropped into a swampy area known as The Plain of Reeds: a vast wetland located in the southernmost portion of Vietnam along the Mekong River. Their mission was to provide close and continual artillery support for infantry units fighting hard to push the advancing Vietcong back over the border into Cambodia. Their home for the next days was Fire Base Cudgel, during an operation code named Coronado One.

Just before five in the afternoon on November 17, Sammy remembers very well the arrival of a helicopter. On board was an officer who informed the men that there was a 100% probability they were going to get hit that night. Since arriving in the area on November 15, they had already seen a plenty of action. Therefore, it was hard to fathom what this officer was speaking about. Private Davis figured it would be pretty much the same and regrets they were not given more details.

As darkness surrounded the sleeping members of Fire Base Cudgel, the man pulling guard duty that night was finding it hard to stay awake. Private Davis was having the opposite problem, and agreed to relieve him fifteen minutes before his own scheduled 2:00 a.m. shift. Minutes later, he heard the ominous sound of mortars sliding down metal tubes, followed by a mortar attack which lasted for half an hour before stopping abruptly. Private Davis described the silence that followed as “unearthly.” The stillness was suddenly broken by the sounds of whistles and bugles. With the order to charge, 1500 enemy soldiers began screaming in broken English, “Kill the GI!” The intensity of the battle over the next four hours defies description.

 

An example of the Fleshettes which pierced Sgt. Davis' body

Surviving “Soldier Hell”
Sammy Davis immediately began firing beehive rounds from his 105mm howitzer. This particular shell, containing 18,000 fleshettes that look like miniature spears, virtually turns the howitzer into a gigantic shot gun. After several rounds, the NVA were able to zero in on his gun, by aiming their rocket propelled grenade launcher at the muzzle blast. Their first round of retaliation was a direct hit on the Howitzer which threw Private Davis, now unconscious, back into his foxhole. His commanding officer simply disappeared into the night.

The remaining members of the decimated unit, located behind Private Davis, attempted to stop the advancing enemy. They fired off another beehive from their howitzer which struck Sammy Davis in the back as he lay unconscious. The impact would have killed him if not for the flack jacket he was wearing. When Davis finally regained consciousness, he was laying face up in the fox hole with dozens of wounds from fleshettes that had pierced his body. One of them perforated his kidney, while another lodged in his fourth vertebrae, causing intense pain. The explosion left him temporarily deaf and during the momentary silence, he began to marvel at the multi color tracers, illuminating the sky above him. “Wow,” he thought to himself, with childlike candor, “that looks just like Christmas lights.”

Seargent Sammy Davis made it through that fateful night by remembering a simple phrase: "You don't lose until you quit trying."

As his hearing returned, so did the noise and chaos of battle. Six feet in front of him was the canal with hundreds of enemy troops, at a time, coming through the water to finish what they had started. At this point, Private Davis, thinking he was alone, became a solitary “line of defense.” With a shattered howitzer and little hope of resistance, he clearly remembered thinking, “You don’t lose until you quit trying.”

With this inspirational thought running through his head, he grabbed an M-16 and fired it till he ran out of ammunition. He then found an M-60 and 1000 rounds. As he shot through the first 500 rounds a human wave of enemy combatants continued to come at him, like bees from an agitated hornets’ nest. Seeing the apparent futility of resistance, he struggled with the strange thought that perhaps his gun was not working. By the time he reached the end of the 1000 rounds something even more bizarre crossed his mind.

“I figured I had died and was in ‘soldiers hell,’ ” he said, “and this torturous circumstance was going to last forever.”

Refusing to quit, he looked skeptically at the smoldering howitzer. Although it was badly damaged he felt certain he could get off another shot. Not too concerned with precise measurements, he crammed it full of powder, loaded another beehive and quickly pulled the lanyard. All he heard, in response to his efforts, was a pathetic “poof” sound, giving the sinking impression of wet powder.

Anticipatory excitement soon followed as the big gun began to convulse like a shuttle ready to blast off. The maximum load, for a fully functional howitzer, was a seven charge. They would later estimate Private Davis had given his a twenty charge.

When the gun finally fired, it reared up in the air and off its wheels. The subsequent explosion and burst of fire was so violent that the rest of the men screamed with joy thinking Private Davis had rigged up some kind of hellish flamethrower.

Sammy L. Davis is honored by USA Stabilization Force at the dedication ceremony for the Headquarters building named in his honor at Eagle Base, Tuzla, Bosnia-Herzegovina.

“Way to go Dave,” they screamed. As they were jumping with joy, Private Davis was writhing in pain. He had been thrown to the ground by the blast and the two-ton howitzer landed on his back, breaking his third lumbar vertebrae. The swelling caused by the injury pushed against his spine provoking a numbness in his legs.

However, as bad as things were, he was about to face his biggest challenge of the night; rescuing three soldiers caught on the opposite side of the canal.

“You Never Leave a Buddy Behind.”
In spite of the severity of his injuries, Sammy Davis was somehow able to fire three more beehives before hearing, what sounded like an American soldier shouting for help. “Don’t shoot, I’m a G.I.,” the person screamed from across the canal. American servicemen were warned to treat such cries with suspicion. The enemy had learned to say the same thing, in perfect English, as a way of drawing them into an ambush. Nevertheless, after firing an illumination round, Sammy Davis clearly saw the individual, frantically calling for help, was a black man named Gwendell Holloway.

With a broken back and his energy almost gone, Private Davis grabbed an inflatable mattress and began to cross the canal, as bullets pelted the water all around him.

Arriving on the other side, he found three members of a recon unit commanded by Lt. Lee Alley, who narrates the night’s events in his book Back from War. Gwendell Holloway, Billy Ray Crawford were both badly wounded, but the third man, Jim Deister, lay lifeless after being shot point blank in the head. The bullet entered the ear and, it was later determined, lodged in his brain: very much like the fatal shot inflicted on President Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth. Sammy was forced to perform the gruesome task of pushing Jim Deister’s oozing brains back into his head.

Jim Deister center with his nephew, Slade Deister (far left) at the Dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Pittsburg Kansas State University, owes his life to Sammy Davis (far right).

With the battle still raging, Private Davis reasoned that three separate trips to get the wounded to safety would be risky. To carry all three at the same time seemed virtually impossible. But after “calling on help from above,” that is exactly what he decided to do.

“When I was little,” Sammy Davis says, describing his actions, “and we would go out to play, my mom would always tell us, ‘now don’t leave your brother.’ It was the same way in the Army. I wasn’t going to leave my brother behind.”1

With iron resolve, he placed the limp body of Jim Deister over his shoulders. He then grabbed the other two, one in each arm, and began to make his way back to the canal. Periodically he was forced to stop, when a group of enemy soldiers passed. He would then lay his men down in the tall elephant grass and cover them, very much like a protective mother hen. Whenever the enemy noticed they were alive, Sammy was forced to silence them.

After arriving to the other side of the canal he put the wounded soldiers on the helicopter and after placing the lifeless body of Jim Deister among the KIA (killed in action) he collapsed from exhaustion. As the chopper slowly ascended, the medic looked with astonishment at the soldier with the horrifying head wound. Jim Deister was actually breathing. They immediately began tending to his wounds and, although no one could figure quite how, he ultimately survived.

Sammy Davis was eventually promoted to corporal. Although he endured that battle, he would face another, almost as painful, upon his return to the United States.

“To Get to Your Aircraft You Have to Run the Gauntlet.”
It occurred on the day Sammy Davis was about to board his final flight in San Francisco, the last leg of a very long trip home to Indiana. One can only imagine his joy at being reunited with his family after the horrors of war and the pride for having served his country admirably. His father would no doubt be proud of him, but others would not.

Milling around in the San Francisco airport were a group of twenty hippies. In order to circumvent the laws forbidding clubs, all of them pretended to be disabled, and carried canes instead. They also had brown paper bags full of what Corporal Davis described as the “nastiest things you can think of” such as “dog droppings.”2

It is hard to find a more striking contrast that the one that exists between a man like Sammy Davis and Hippies of the 60's.

Although Sammy and two other servicemen were dressed in civilian clothes, as instructed for those on commercial flights, their military bearing made them clear targets for revolutionary aggression. One soldier reminded Sammy of the specific orders given by their sergeant, back at Travis Air Force base. They were explicitly forbidden to retaliate, should someone start an altercation, since the media would inevitably spin it against the returning soldiers.

“Hey, if you want to get to your aircraft,” one of the hippies said, “you have to run the gauntlet.” Seeing the scene before him, Sammy Davis said he and his fellow soldiers decided they would not run the gauntlet, they would walk it: and do so with pride and dignity.

The first hippies began rubbing the contents of their bags in the soldiers hair, on their face and stuffing it into their ears. When they failed to get the desired response they began beating them with the canes which opened up head wounds, causing Sammy and the others to bleed profusely.3

This was the despicable treatment for a man who proved himself on the field of battle to be one of America’s great warriors. Yet through it all, Sammy Davis accepted these injustices with dignity and kept his composure till the end.

It is worth mentioning, for the record, the treatment they received on the plane. Solicitous stewardesses gratuitously seated them in first class, served them champagne, cleaned their shirts and wiped the blood from their head and faces.

Where They are Today
Because of his injuries, and the lingering effects of Agent Orange, Sammy Davis was forced to retire from the Army in 1984 with the rank of sergeant. Besides the Medal of Honor he also earned a Silver Star and two Purple Hearts.

After being medically discharged from the military, Jim Deister returned to college where he earned a Bachelor’s of Science in psychology and later a Master’s in Rehabilitation Counseling. He now resides in Salina, Kansas where he works as a counselor for the deaf and hard of hearing for the State of Kansas, in 18 different counties.

Jim Deister (right) with his friend Sammy Davis at the dedication of a War Memorial in Salina Kansas. Jim Deister was able to go on because he learned, from Sammy, that one must not only be willing to die for their country, but also to live for their country.

When people ask him about retirement, his response is always the same.

“I will retire,” he tells them, “when my secretary, comes in and finds me dead at my desk.” If not for the speech impediment, one might never know the trauma he endured. There are two reasons for this.

First of all, he detests the way Vietnam veterans are often portrayed in books and movies, with what he calls, the “victim syndrome.”

“The majority of us did our duties,” he says, “then we came home, went to work and raised our families.”

The second reason is more personal. Mr. Deister recognizes that Sammy Davis not only saved his life, but gave him the inspiration to go on living. He received this motivational nudge from one sentence in a speech given by his friend, which moved him profoundly. “You not only have to be willing to die for your country,” Sergeant Davis often tells audiences, “you must also be willing to live for your country!”

“That particular phrase sort of shocked me out my guilt feelings,” Mr. Deister admitted, “and I told myself that yes, that means me. I am alive, now I have to live for those men who were killed that night.”

Today Sergeant Davis lives a simple life amidst the corn fields of southern Illinois. He is a member of the Medal of Honor society along with his boyhood hero Colonel Roger Donlon. He continues to give an average of 300 inspirational talks around the country each year. In spite of the ill effects of war, he accepts his sufferings with patience and calm. However, he will candidly admit that memories of November 18 still haunt him, but quickly adds, “Its only been 41 years. So tomorrow night will surely be better.”4

The Congressional Medal of Honor

In spite of everything he has accomplished in life, Sergeant Sammy Davis retains a refreshing humility and, one could say, almost boyish simplicity. It is not hard to imagine how such a man could think about Christmas while contemplating the multi-color tracers during a hellish firefight in Vietnam: perhaps that is what makes Sergeant Sammy Davis so special. Not one for complicated formulas, he sees life through a different prism. It was for this reason that he was able to overcome life’s toughest battles. He knew that you really don’t lose until you quit trying.

1. http://blogs.uiowa.edu/jmcglobal/2010/03/05/the-real-forrest-gump [back]
2. http://blogs.uiowa.edu/jmcglobal/2010/03/05/the-real-forrest-gump [back]
3. http://www.pritzkermilitarylibrary.org/medal-of-honor/ [back]
4. http://www.courierpress.com/news/2008/jul/05/soldiers-tale-of-uncommon-valor [back]

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