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Face of Defense: Guardsmen Meet Medal of Honor Recipient

By Army Sgt. Robert G. Cooper III
Special to American Forces Press Service

BEDFORD, Ind., Feb. 24, 2010 – More than 100 soldiers preparing for deployment to Iraq got a special treat Feb. 13 when Medal of Honor recipient Sammy L. Davis visited the Indiana National Guard’s 2219th Brigade Support Company at the Bedford National Guard Armory here.

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Medal of Honor Recipient Sammy L. Davis shows his Medal of Honor to 6-year-old Dean Campbell during a visit with soldiers and family members from the Indiana National Guard’s 2219th Brigade Support Company at the National Guard Armory in Bedford, Ind., Feb. 13, 2010. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Robert G. Cooper III
  

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"There's nothing any better to boost morale than having a legend like him come to our little unit just to mingle with the troops," said Army Sgt. Ricky Stork, a fuel handler with the company.

A Vietnam veteran, Davis was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1968 for his actions during an intense enemy mortar attack. Despite being injured, Davis – a sergeant at the time -- managed to cross a river to rescue three other wounded soldiers. Since then, the Indiana native and graduate of Mooresville High School has continued his service to his country by visiting and speaking with his fellow servicemembers.

Davis shared lessons he learned from his deployment with the Guardsmen here.

"I thought I knew what to expect," Davis said. "I saw the jungle in the movies. I'd been to basic training and all that, and I knew what I was supposed to do. But it didn't take me very long to figure out that I didn't know anything about anything. The more training you can consume and the more knowledge you have going into any situation in life, the better you should be able to react to it."

Davis also urged his fellow soldiers to make the most of their deployment and not to reflect on its negative aspects.

"As I see it, the purpose of life is to enjoy life," Davis said. "If you consume yourself with the task at hand, when you get old like me, you suddenly realize there were things in life you could have enjoyed, but didn't. So I enjoyed life, because at the time when I was in Vietnam, I was not assured of tomorrow."

Army Pvt. Allyssa Masterson, one of the 2219th's newest soldiers, was on hand to hear Davis' words and said she gained some peace of mind from his advice.

"I believe it makes you a little more at ease when you hear from somebody who's been deployed," Masterson said. "He reminded us that you're going to have to do it, so you might as well think positively about it, be grateful and enjoy what you're going to do, because there's no reason to harbor the bad parts of deploying."

Army Col. Ivan Denton, commander of the 219th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade, was in attendance as well, and said the unit gained some wisdom through Davis' speech.

"I think it put the unit at ease a bit, especially when he spoke about enjoying," Denton said. “I can't imagine any of the soldiers here that didn't flat-out love this visit. It impacted training, but I think it impacted training in a very positive way."

Davis spoke about the trials of returning from Vietnam to face criticism from the American people. While waiting to fly home to Indiana, Davis said, he was accosted by a group of anti-war demonstrators at an airport and forced to endure verbal and physical assaults. Despite the attacks that left him and his fellow soldiers bloodied and bruised, he said, not one of them lifted a finger to fight their fellow Americans.

"To think about how they were treated and how they took it upon themselves to make sure that future generations of warriors weren't treated that way meant a lot to me, and I think it meant a lot to the unit," Denton said. “I think it instills a sense a pride and some humility about the way we're treated now, but I hope that the younger folks, as they [find themselves] around Vietnam veterans, really thank them for all that they did. I don't think they can hear that enough."

Despite his place in history as an American hero, Davis remains humbled by the fact that each opportunity to speak with the next generation of servicemembers is just his way of “paying it forward.”

"No matter how often I have the opportunity to speak to today's military, it always inspires me to see young men and women, who could be doing so many other things if they chose, choose to serve our nation," he said.

(Army Sgt. Robert G. Cooper III serves with the 120th Public Affairs Detachment.)

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Related Sites:
Indiana National Guard
Medal of Honor Citation, Sammy L. Davis

Click photo for screen-resolution imageMedal of Honor Recipient Sammy L. Davis and Army Col. Ivan Denton share a few stories Feb. 13, 2010, at National Guard Armory in Bedford, Ind. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Robert G. Cooper III  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageMedal of Honor Recipient Sammy L. Davis shakes hands with Army Pvt. Allyssa Masterson during a visit to the National Guard Armory in Bedford, Ind., Feb. 13, 2010. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Robert G. Cooper III  
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