SFC Sammy L. Davis (retired)
We are very fortunate to have Sammy L. Davis as our guest speaker at the 2020 reunion.
In March 1967, Davis was sent to South Vietnam as a private first class, and was assigned to Battery C, 2nd Battalion, 4th Artillery Regiment, 9th Infantry Division. On November 18, 1967, his unit at Firebase Cudgel (10.4198°N 105.991°E) west of Cai Lay, fell under machine gun fire and heavy mortar attack by an estimated three companies of Vietcong from the 261st Viet Cong Main Force Battalion who swarmed the area from the south and then west. Upon detecting an enemy position, Davis manned a machine gun to give his comrades covering fire so they could fire artillery in response. Davis was wounded, but ignored warnings to take cover, taking over the unit's burning howitzer and firing several shells himself. He also disregarded his inability to swim due to a broken back, and crossed a river there on an air mattress to help rescue three wounded American soldiers. He ultimately found his way to another howitzer site to continue fighting the NVA attack until they fled. The battle lasted two hours.
Davis was subsequently promoted to sergeant and received the Medal of Honor the following year from President Lyndon B. Johnson. After he was presented the medal at the White house ceremony, Davis played "Oh Shenandoah" on his harmonica in memory of the men he served with in Vietnam.
Sammy Davis took some ribbing in the Army because he shared a name with the famous entertainer. Years later, long after his military days were over, he would again gain acclaim among his old comrades, this time as the "real" Forrest Gump. Footage of LBJ putting the medal around Davis's neck appeared in the movie Forrest Gump (with Tom Hanks's head substituted for Davis's), and Gump's fictional Medal of Honor citation was loosely based on Davis's real one.
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, March 3, 1863, has awarded in the name of Congress the Medal of Honor to
Sergeant Sammy L. Davis
United States Army
for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.
Sgt. Davis (then Pfc.) distinguished himself during the early morning hours while serving as a cannoneer with Battery C, at a remote fire support base. At approximately 0200 hours the fire support base was under heavy enemy mortar attack. Simultaneously, an estimated reinforced Viet Cong battalion launched a fierce ground assault upon the fire support base. The attacking enemy drove to within 25 meters of the friendly positions. Only a river separated the Viet Cong from the fire support base. Detecting a nearby enemy position, Sgt. Davis seized a machine gun and provided covering fire for his gun crew, as they attempted to bring direct artillery fire on the enemy. Despite his efforts, an enemy recoilless-rifle round scored a direct hit upon the artillery piece. The resultant blast hurled the gun crew from their weapon and blew Sgt. Davis into a foxhole. He struggled to his feet and returned to the howitzer, which was burning furiously. Ignoring repeated warnings to seek cover, Sgt. Davis rammed a shell into the gun. Disregarding a withering hail of enemy fire directed against his position, he aimed and fired the howitzer which rolled backward, knocking Sgt. Davis violently to the ground. Undaunted, he returned to the weapon to fire again when an enemy mortar round exploded within 20 meters of his position, injuring him painfully. Nevertheless, Sgt. Davis loaded the artillery piece, aimed, and fired. Again he was knocked down by the recoil. In complete disregard for his safety, Sgt. Davis loaded and fired three more shells into the enemy. Disregarding his extensive injuries and his inability to swim, Sgt. Davis picked up an air mattress and struck out across the deep river to rescue three wounded comrades on the far side. Upon reaching the three wounded men, he stood upright and fired into the dense vegetation to prevent the Viet Cong from advancing. While the most seriously wounded soldier was helped across the river, Sgt. Davis protected the two remaining casualties until he could pull them across the river to the fire support base. Though suffering from painful wounds, he refused medical attention, joining another howitzer crew which fired at the large Viet Cong force until it broke contact and fled. Sgt. Davis' extraordinary heroism, at the risk of his life, is in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself and the U.S. Army.