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Sammy Davis speaks about Medal of Honor, wartime

Veterans+present+the+colors+prior+to+Sammy+Davis%E2%80%99s+speech.
Veterans present the colors prior to Sammy Davis’s speech.

Veterans present the colors prior to Sammy Davis’s speech.

Veterans present the colors prior to Sammy Davis’s speech.

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As students celebrate the holiday season, they are reminded to be thankful. Often, however, students forget to recognize and give thanks to millions of strangers who sacrificed their lives for them: veterans. To remind students of the importance of recognizing veterans and allow them to hear a firsthand account of military service, SFC Sammy Davis, a Medal of Honor recipient, visited Saint Viator on November 6th and spoke to the staff and student body.

Davis spoke about his experience as a teenage soldier in the Vietnam War. Through his various stories, Davis had students feeling an array of emotions. Recounting on time he failed to write home for 63 days, Davis brought the crowd to laughter with the reaction from his Sergeant, who then forced Davis to write home daily.

“Tomorrow will be a better day. I’ll write home tomorrow,” said Davis on his thought behind not writing to his mother, teaching students a lesson about procrastination.

Moreover, Davis told of positive memories from his Vietnam War service, including interacting with a baby elephant and learning to play the harmonica. Davis notably learned the song “Shenandoah,” which he often played for his Captain, John Dunlop, who found strength and peace in the tune. As Davis played “Shenandoah” for the staff and students, one could experience the same serenity Davis’s fellow soldiers once felt.

“I hope it will give you strength,” stated Davis, who was met with a standing ovation after his performance.

Davis also spoke about the night of November 18th, 1967, which earned him the Medal of Honor.

“I remember I prayed very hard. I prayed to God ‘Sir, just help me do my job,’ and I just kept going,” stated Davis.

That night, Davis had sustained 30 gunshot wounds, severely injuring him, but still managed to fire over 1000 rounds and assist other injured soldiers when the attack had finished.

“No matter what you’re faced with in life, keep going,” said Davis.

Despite the traumatic experience, Davis willingly chose to continue his military career. He continued serving until 1984, retiring as a Sergeant First Class.

“All you wanted to do was go back and be with your brothers,” stated Davis.

“Every time [in Vietnam] was an experience,” said William Christiansen ’65, who served in the same unit as Davis and helped in the presentation of the colors during the assembly. “I would do it again.”

After receiving the Medal of Honor from President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968 and retiring from service, Davis began giving speeches on his military experience. He openly proclaimed that his speeches and other discussions are part of his healing from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Additionally, Davis traveled back to Vietnam and has kept in touch with fellow soldiers.

“I just opened up my heart, and let people in look,” said Davis.

Additionally, in 1992, Davis received a unique opportunity from the Pentagon, who requested to use the footage of him receiving the Medal of Honor in the film “Forrest Gump”. Davis got to influence the film with some of his personal lessons from his wartime experience.

After finishing his speech, students were given the opportunity to ask questions to Davis

“His stories were very inspiring,” said junior Anna Haas. “He gave me a new perspective on the sacrifice of being in the military.

Finishing the assembly, Davis was met with a round of applause and another standing ovation. Davis and the other veterans in attendance then met with faculty and staff who also found the stories and lessons of Davis to be particularly inspiring.

“I loved his speech. It was very moving,” said Spanish teacher Mrs. Rosemary Castellucci. “It’s emotional to think about a young boy doing those things.”

Though the unique experience of witnessing stories from a recipient of the Medal of Honor, students were reminded to be thankful for those who serve in the military, especially on Veterans Day, November 11.

“You don’t lose until you quit trying,” stated Davis.

 

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Sammy Davis speaks about Medal of Honor, wartime