Vietnam veteran, Medal of Honor recipient Sammy L. Davis honored with Indiana’s highest award

Gov. Eric Holcomb presents the Sachem Award to Sammy L. Davis on March 12, 2018

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.– When Sammy L. Davis was a teenager prowling the backwoods and splashing in the creeks of Morgan County, his mother’s admonition always rang in his ears.

“Don’t you come home without your brothers.”

His mother’s words were imprinted in his memory as he floated across a river in South Vietnam on the night of Nov. 18, 1967, under enemy fire to rescue three U.S. soldiers trapped in a fox hole on the wrong side of the war.

Davis fought off waves of Vietcong troops that night to bring his comrades home and continued battling until direct hits on his gun emplacement and flying shrapnel landed him in a military hospital in Okinawa on his way to Washington D.C. and a Medal of Honor presentation as President Lyndon Johnson draped the blue ribbon with the gold medal around his neck.

Today, the Owen County resident, who literally lives in Freedom, Indiana, recalled that White House ceremony nearly five decades ago as he was honored with the Sachem, the highest state award, by Governor Eric Holcomb at the Indiana War Memorial in downtown Indianapolis.

“That’s what exactly was going through my mind when I was standing up there,” said Sgt. Davis afterwards. “I was trying not to let my legs shake as bad as they were then.”

Davis was honored not only for his Medal of Honor exploits, but also for his efforts on behalf of all military veterans and nearly fifty years of representing the best of the American military and spirit.

“We can correct the direction of our nation. We can pass on our dreams of a greater America to our children. We can change this world,” Davis told attendees of the Sachem ceremony. “It is not about politics and which color hat that you wear but honestly working together for the benefit of all. We must stand up for what we believe to be true and correct in our hearts.”

In his presentation, Governor Holcomb quoted another U.S. Civil War Medal of Honor recipient and hero of the Battle of Gettysburg, General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, on the definition of courage.

“The inspiration of a noble cause involving human interests far and wide enables men to do things they did not dream themselves capable of before and which they were not capable of alone,” Holcomb quoted him as saying.

Davis acknowledged the debt paid by military personnel who did not return from South Vietnam and said he wears the Medal in their honor.

He said he’s not a hero.

“It’s an immense obligation, in my opinion, to do my very best to live up to it because I know I’m not one but I want to be what you believe I am.”

Davis regularly accepts school speaking engagements where he encourages young people to rub their hands on the Medal as he explains his credo.

“No matter what you’re faced with in life, you don’t lose until you quit trying.”

It’s a lesson learned by Davis’ grandchildren, who attended the event honoring their grandfather.

“I’m proud of everything he did to be a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, but I’m most proud of him because he’s my grandpa. I’ve looked up to him my whole life,” said Stevie Johnson, 22. “He’s kind to everybody even when they don’t deserve it. He will look you in the eye and shake your hand and you know that’s coming from his heart. I’m proud of everything he’s done since then and everything that he’s overcome.”

That includes shell fragments still embedded in Davis’ body decades after the end of the war and health problems brought on by exposure to Agent Orange and other war wounds.

Jamie Johnson, 16, doesn’t know if she could do what her grandfather did long ago when he was just a bit older than she is now, “because it would be terrifying whether you’re gonna make it or not and how he went about it. He didn’t care about his own life. He just wanted to make sure people were okay.”

Davis has said the next generations of Hoosiers are his heroes.

His 13-year-old grandson Dylan Johnson understood.

“We’re gonna be the future and we’re gonna do more of the stuff that he did,” he said.

Davis capped off the Sachem ceremony with a harmonica rendition of “Oh Shenandoah” in the War Memorial lobby in honor of a long-ago sergeant who did not come home from the war.

“I believe in the sacredness of a promise,” Davis said. “A person’s word should be their bond and that character, not wealth, power or position, is of supreme worth.”