May 30, 2016_Memorial Day
Yesterday my husband received an email from a friend named Jim, who graduated from The Citadel. The Citadel was established in 1842 as the Military College of South Carolina.
The email Jim forwarded to my husband, was written about one of Jim’s classmates at The Citadel. The email is one representative account that tells of some of the countless sacrifices and acts of bravery that U.S. military men and women have made, and continue to make, in service to our country.
FROM JIM’S EMAIL:
Here’s something I thought you’d be interested in. It concerns (in part) a Citadel classmate of mine we called “Foggy” Davis. He was a nice guy who sat across from me in one of my history classes.
Subject: As we reflect on Memorial Day…….here is story of the sacrifice our classmate Stephen Davis made in Viet Nam and the Davis family…..
I thank my dear friend, band mate from I Company and the Class of 1965, Ron Padgett, for sharing this story about our classmate on Facebook today. Gives all of us still here, a moment to reflect on the true meaning of Memorial Day and the many sacrifices so many have made to protect our country and the many freedoms we enjoy.
A father-son Citadel Memorial Day memory about Honor, Duty, Respect
They are on the minds of our Charleston family this Memorial Day and in my mind, on all days. But for the younger ones, to help them understand, the complete story of our family’s heroes, as known from many old newspaper and military articles, is now written in one place for them to keep and to pass on in the future.
Maj. Gen. Franklin M. Davis, Jr. and his oldest son, 1st Lt. Stephen W. Davis, The Citadel Class 1966, are buried together in Arlington National Cemetery. When my father, Gen. Davis, first entered the army prior to World War II, he was a young officer and fortunate to be a member of the Honor Guard at Arlington National Cemetery.
In the darkness he would ride his horse to inspect The Tomb of The Unknown Soldiers, on guard, 24 hours a day, riding past the thousands of head stones and heroes buried there from America’s past wars. The only noise was the sound of the horse’s hooves. As Gen. Davis rode through the yard, the only noise the beating of horse hooves, he sensed the spiritual presence of all those great heroes buried there, relying on him to watch over the cemetery.
Years later, after the unimaginable horrors experienced by fighting the Nazis across Europe with the Third Armored Division in WWII, he was haunted by experiences such as liberating concentration camps, or surviving the misery of The Battle of The Bulge.
Next, it was Vietnam, long before the public conflict, and as a general, administering what we all later learned was a secret war against the North Vietnamese in Laos and Cambodia. In 1967 Gen. Davis’ oldest son, Stephen, a member of The Citadel Class of 1966, joined him. Father and son were at a remote 101st Airborne Division base camp in the jungles. Just a week later, Lt. Davis and his platoon found what the U.S. forces had been looking for: the 21st North Vietnamese Regiment (NVA) in full uniform, with headquarters buried in a mountain deep inside South Vietnam. An Associated Press news reporter was following Lt. Davis and was there when he was killed in combat shortly after attacking the NVA facility. The story of Lt. Davis’ death, my older brother, hit the pages of most American newspapers, including the then News & Courier; he was the son of a well-known general, after all.
The headlines read, “General’s son dies a hero.” Against overwhelming odds, in the surprise NVA ambush, Lt. Davis fought to the bitter end. He called in artillery to assist in the attack on the well-entrenched North Vietnamese regiment. Wounded, he ordered the others in his unit to get out while he stayed behind, continuing to engage the enemy any way he could. Many years later, a surviving soldier who fought beside Lt. Davis that fateful day said, “He saved a lot of Americans. He covered us so we could escape the tremendous onslaught. Blinded by his injury, Lt. Davis kept fighting and stayed on the radio, raining artillery on the enemy.”
A soldier with the recovery unit that arrived the next day, also a graduate of The Citadel, commented that in his two tours in Vietnam, “he had never seen so many dead North Vietnamese enemy soldiers on one mountain side.” Lt. Davis was awarded the Silver Star, the nation’s third highest medal for heroism, posthumously. According to those who moved on from the battle, the 101st Airborne Division was not able to catch up with NVA again in the open for a year, and then decimated it with B52 carpet-bombings.
It remains difficult to even imagine the emotions of our father. Gen. Davis accompanied the flag-draped coffin of his 23-year-old son half-way around the world, back to America. The military funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, which had been fueled by the news reports and the country’s desire to honor heroes in the earlier years of this dark era, was one of the largest to date according to cemetery records. On the front row sat many of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Lady Bird Johnson, first lady at the time, read the story of Lt. Davis’ heroic acts as well as a personal letter she had written to our family. The Citadel family, which always excels in honoring its war heroes, was strongly represented there too. In fact, memorials to Lt. Stephen “Foggy” Davis, The Citadel Class of 1966, are in the college’s library, chapel, and in the barracks that house his company, Tango.
After his son’s funeral, Gen. Davis was needed back in the thick of the war in Vietnam, returning after 30 days. But then disaster struck again. It did not take long before all of the newspapers in the country, as well as CBS national news, were putting out stories about Gen. Davis, Commander of 199th Light Infantry Brigade, being ambushed and blown-up by Viet Cong rocket grenades while on a search and destroy mission aboard a river patrol boat. It unfolded on home TV screens, “in living color,” on Walter Cronkite’s CBS evening news. Gen. Davis was wounded and became the last general officer to be evacuated from the Vietnam War. He survived and became commandant at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where he planted a tree just outside of the commanding general’s home, honoring the memory and sacrifice of his oldest son. The tree still stands there, with a plaque, 45 years later.
Many years past his battles, Gen. Davis joined those who had gone before him, buried alongside his oldest son with full military honors in the very same Arlington National Cemetery where he had served as a young guard. (It was later thought that the rare cancer that killed our father was, in part, due to Agent Orange, the slow silent killer of so many Vietnam War veterans). An insightful Gen. Davis told Army Magazine once in an interview that his most moving and memorable experience during his 35 year of service to his country was “the nighttime horse-mounted inspections in Arlington National Cemetery, riding down to The Tomb of The Unknown Soldier.”
There is a shiny memorial plaque dedicated to the general in the barracks that house Tango Company at The Citadel. While a freshman cadet, my son, Reid Perry Davis, had the honor of polishing his grandfather’s memorial every week, as has been done by Tango cadets before and after Reid’s 1998 graduation.
The entire extended Davis family and our future generations are fortunate that journalists were there to capture the contributions made by my father and brother. There are so many servicemen and women, lost in so many wars, and unknown, but to God, as to who they were and what they did during their defining moments in combat. The Davis father and son story is recorded for future soldiers and for all Citadel cadets. The world knows their story of sacrifice in the true spirit of The Citadel core values of Honor, Duty, Respect.
It is because of the memorable deeds of so many duty-driven soldiers, dead and living, that we shall live to remember, on this and all Memorial Days to come.