Born in St. Louis, a twin, Davis was raised on his uncle’s property in St. Clair on the Meramac River since the age of 5. “I was the Huckleberry Finn of the Meramac,” he said.
He was a 1966 graduate of St. Clair High School and was drafted and inducted into the Army in September that year. He wouldn’t have had to go, being an only son, but he felt he should go and even though his father didn’t much like the idea, he honored his son’s decision.
Six-week basic training in Ft. Leonard Wood was followed by 8-week Guerrilla Warfare Training in Ft. Polk LA. In those 8 weeks, Davis made Private First Class and after a 30-day leave upon completion, he was deployed to Vietnam. “It was a non-stop flight all the way, 22 hours and some odd minutes,” he said. He had never flown before and says it was a real experience for him.
Landing in Saigon, he was transported to Qui Nhon, where his duty was to guard one of the largest ammunition dumps in Vietnam for the first three months he was stationed there. He moved up in rank, by this time, making Sergeant E5. He was then called into the 1st Infantry Division along with over 200 other men for a search and destroy mission. With three tanks and 13 track vehicles, the team followed the highways keeping them clear from Saigon to the southern tip of Vietnam. This was his job for the next year. “Every week, we were in constant combat, the whole time,” Davis said. “Luckily, being mechanized, we had a lot better survival rates because of that.” But, whenever they’d encounter “fire” they were backed up by the Air Force who would drop Agent Orange on the scene and the ground soldiers would have to wear their masks until it was…for lack of a better word…safe.
Davis’ track took a hit, at one point, when a rocket went clean through, it blowing all of the men off the vehicle. The rocket did not explode, which Davis accredits the miracle to God, but it left a hole in the vehicle about the size of a 5-gallon bucket. The blast left all the men with bleeding ears and basically paralyzed for several moments after the incident. Davis saw the track was on fire and realized his driver was trapped inside. As he slowly regained his senses and was able to move, he had to crawl to the track and was able to open the hatch so the man could get out. Although the team was battered and bruised, everyone survived the attack. However, Davis still suffers from damage to his ears.
One particular incident that made TV news was when Davis’ team chased a sniper that was shooting at them into the jungle. The team was beginning to worry that the “hole rat” that was sent into the tunnels to find him might have been killed. But he came out after about an hour and a half with wide eyes, saying “You won’t believe what’s down here!” What he had found was a cache of 40,000 tons of white rice buried and stored underground for years by the North Vietnamese as part of the Tet Offensive. They had built storage rooms about the size of jail cells that spread beneath the jungle for a ten-mile square. “That was the only time in that year where we didn’t do anything but guard the people who came and dug all that rice up. That’s why it was on TV, it was really a big deal.” The rice was given to the very poor Southern Vietnamese people. “They were sweet people and they had nothing,” says Davis.
Much of the job too, included clearing the dead, for body count, once an area had been “mowed” by helicopter fire. He admits it was a horrible job, but said “You got numb to the fact of what you had to do, and still to this day, I have feelings I can’t get rid of.”
When his tour was up, all 208 men in his company came home as a group, together, and with one final hurrah, they had to quickly make their way onto the plane in Saigon as the air strip was under fire with mortar rounds that day. “We didn’t know if we were going to make it out, but God blessed us there too.”
He once again found himself on a non-stop flight back home, landing in Oakland, CA. Still in jungle fatigues and exhausted from the trip, the men encountered a whole other war…so to speak, when they were greeted by Jane Fonda’s group of protesters chanting the “baby killer song,” as was the case with many of our Vietnam heroes. Luckily, the soldiers were protected from the angry mob by a group of MPs. Once allowed to shower and change into civilian clothing, they could move about society with no harassment.
Davis’ Captain, whom Davis says many good things about, wanted Davis to sign back up for a second tour in Vietnam. He was even offered a good chunk of money to do it, but Davis said NO to going back and for the last four months of his time in service, he worked in the mail room, a duty which he did enjoy.
After 20 or so years after Vietnam, Davis was sent a letter by the military asking if he had any health issues related to the exposure to Agent Orange. At that time, he sent the form back stating he did not, but in 2012, he began having issues with his ribs breaking. He had sought, the help of a chiropractor for treatment of some back issues he was having, but during treatment, three more of his ribs were broken which prompted him to have further testing done. The test not only revealed his broken ribs, but also a hot dog size tumor growing from his rib cage. The diagnosis was bone marrow cancer, most assuredly from Agent Orange exposure during his Vietnam tour. Through treatment, God’s protection and his own strong will, Davis says he is cancer-free going on nearly four years now. His doctors refer to him as Superman because he was able to come back from his illness with amazing results.
Davis, since the age of 12, has been serious about singing. Today he sings gospel with his wife Rosemary, his daughter and two grandchildren in a group aptly named “The Davis Family.” They have recently recorded an album in Nashville and have been nominated for three separate gospel awards.