By Debbie Davis
I am writing in response to your request for information about a veteran involved in community service. I have been privileged to serve with many whom I consider to be true American heroes here at home, as well as on foreign soil.
I considered writing about my father-in-law, one of the last surviving ‘Chosin Few’ veterans who served in Korea during an epic battle when the 1st Marine Division was trapped at the Chosin Reservoir. Dad, a young Army engineer at the time, had been sent to transport some wounded soldiers from the reservoir. This resulted in him being trapped with the Marine division by 250,000 enemy soldiers. He has often told us of the brave Marines, outnumbered and outgunned, who fought their way to Inchon harbor. In the words of their famous commander, Chesty Puller, they weren’t retreating; they were fighting their way to the rear. He would be one of the last men to board the ship that would evacuate them on Christmas Eve. Being his daughter-in-law has been a great honor.
However, I wanted to tell you of another veteran. He has no purple heart, and I know he would not consider himself to be a hero, but as is often the case, it is the unsung veterans who are the backbone of our beloved armed services.
I first met him as we flew on the medical evacuation team for the 82nd Airborne. He was the helicopter pilot; I was the EMT. Whether we were scrambling at 2 a.m. to respond to the dispatcher’s call or on the usual two-minute rapid response team to help our wounded paratroopers injured in an airdrop, his demeanor was always exemplary. The Army calls it ‘conduct becoming of an officer’.
I can easily recall some of the more memorable flights. For instance, while we had transported hundreds of premature infants fighting for their lives to a level three hospital, this particular night Ed was co-pilot. The pilot had gotten vertigo, which meant he couldn’t fly. He yelled for Ed to take the controls. Ed took them, though he also had vertigo. It was pitch black that night which is why it was so easy to lose visual balance. This is life-threatening as the pilot has to convince himself the instruments are correct though every fiber of his being screams that the aircraft is upside down. If he reacts to his instincts the whole crew dies as the helicopter crashes. Quietly, he flew the entire mission with his head turned at ninety degrees so he could ‘see level’. He landed squarely on the postage stamp-sized H on the roof of the hospital in these conditions to deliver his precious package into the hands of the doctors and nurses poised to pick up the baton in this relay for life. It was just another routine flight for this unsung hero.
He flew his crew in on a wing and a prayer more than once. We heard him call in an emergency landing as he felt the high frequency vibration that indicated a tail rotor loss was imminent. He was quiet and steady while all around him was chaos. We prepared the emergency and fire crews for his arrival. When he landed, we discovered that the tail rotor bolts had been assembled improperly. If he hadn’t felt it and accurately assessed the situation, and finessed his aircraft in, they would not have made it home that day.
I remember when we were on the team that flew to Pennsylvania to help the Cuban boatlift refugees. He didn’t volunteer for the recognition, though we would later be awarded the Humanitarian Service Medal. He did it because it was the right thing to do.
There are so many stories I could write, but it would take a book, which I just may write someday. But my purpose in writing this is to point out that many veterans, like our own city councilperson Ed Davis, are there behind the scenes, often without acknowledgement, faithfully serving their family, their community, and their country. I was honored to be on his team then, and after 32 years as his wife and best friend, I am even more proud to be ‘on his team’.