WOLCOTT — Like most true heroes, Medal of Honor winner Sammy Davis is easy and relaxed about his celebrity.
“I didn’t do anything heroic. I did my job. That’s what soldiers do,” Davis said.
There are only 79 living Medal of Honor recipients. When Davis is wearing his, people stop and do a double take. More than 60 percent of Medal of Honor recipients receive theirs posthumously.
More than 2.7 million school children have held his medal, he said.
Davis, singer Steve Amerson and actor Gary Sinese were at 4 Eagle Ranch for Freedom & Faith, a benefit for Amerson’s music ministry.
Amerson, known as America’s Tenor, has been traveling and performing for injured combat veterans for years. He’s a musical ambassador for the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation and Society and sings for their events throughout the United States.
Sinese walked away from a successful film and television career to devote his time to raising money for injured combat veterans. He spends most of that money on building homes specially adapted to those veterans’ specific needs.
“I do it because this generation of warriors need us. This generation has taken a beating,” Sinese said.
“Our veterans are our freedom providers,” Sinese told the crowd. “We can never do enough to show gratitude to our nation’s defenders, and we can always do a little more,” Sinese said.
“When you go around the world and visit places and people who don’t know what freedom is, you appreciate it that much more,” Sinese said.
A soldier’s story
Davis found himself in the Army almost as soon as he graduated high school. Not long after that, he was in Vietnam.
“I went to Vietnam for my senior trip,” Davis said.
He didn’t write home as often as his mother thought he should, and she was correct, he said.
For 63 straight days he failed to write home. He says that now when he’s talking to school kids and they ask, “Why didn’t you just text her?”
“You have to explain to them that there was nothing like that in those days. The only way to communicate was with a letter, and it took between seven and 12 days one way,” Davis said.
His mother contacted the Red Cross, the Red Cross contacted the Pentagon, the Pentagon contacted Davis’ captain, and Davis’ captain contacted Davis. At about 5:30 a.m. he stormed through the South Vietnamese fog to Davis’ foxhole where he was doing overnight guard duty with some clear and uncomplicated instructions.
“Private Davis, you have not been writing your mother,” the captain said, with orders that he do otherwise.
To the captain Davis replied, “Yes sir.” To the 4 Eagle crowd he said, “I didn’t want to tell her what was happening.”
Davis’ sergeant, Johnston Dunlop, explained that a C-ration carton could be broken into four postcard-sized pieces. Write on those and send them to your mother, every day, Dunlop barked.
So Davis did, writing about everything but the war. He sounded bored, so his mother sent him a box that looked like it could contain oatmeal raisin cookies, but didn’t. His mother had sent him a harmonica. Dunlop ordered him to play “Shenandoah.” It took a couple weeks, but eventually Davis could blow something that sounded remotely like it. As Dunlop walked the perimeter of the area they were guarding, he’d stop by Davis’ foxhole and listen to him practice. It was about the only thing that helped him relax and sleep.
MEDAL OF HONOR
Fast forward a few months and Davis pulled three buddies across a river at the same time, under heavy enemy fire, a feat for which he earned the Medal of Honor. Dunlop was also hit and killed during that time.
Fast forward again to 1982 and the evening before the Vietnam memorial was to be dedicated. Davis got to Washington, D.C., at about 2 a.m. and went straight to the wall, found Dunlop’s name and, pulling that same harmonica from his pocket, played “Shenandoah.”
“Now you can rest easy,” Davis said to Dunlop.
And with that, Davis pulled a harmonica from his uniform pocket and played “Shenandoah” for the 4 Eagle crowd. Amerson followed it by singing it, with a huge American flag hung behind them.
If there were dry eyes in the house, they were lying eyes.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.