Calling someone a hero has become almost commonplace recently. So common in fact, that sometimes it’s hard to remember what a true hero really looks like. If you need reminding, look no further than a Hoosier veteran and Medal of Honor recipient named Sergeant Sammy L. Davis.
“I didn’t swim across that river because I was big bad and brave, I swam across that river because I loved my brothers,” said Sergeant Davis.
Davis became a hero in March of 1967 when his artillery unit came under attack by an estimated 1,500 North Vietnamese troops. He was wounded when his howitzer was struck by an enemy rocket. He was hit again by friendly fire.
Despite those wounds, Davis still single-handedly manned the big gun himself and fired all his shells. He only stopped when he heard a single voice coming from across a nearby canal.
“‘Don’t shoot I’m a GI!’ Well, somebody’s gotta go get him. At this point, I didn’t know who was alive who was dead. I knew I had to go get him. So, I asked the one above to give me the strength to get my brother,” said Davis.
Using a damaged air mattress and ignoring his severe wounds, Davis swam that canal not once, but three times to save three wounded soldiers, all while taking enemy fire. He even defended himself hand to hand with just a stick he found on the canal bank.
Sergeant Davis received the Medal of Honor from President Lyndon Johnson. His ceremony may seem vaguely familiar because you may have seen it before. Davis’ heroism became the inspiration for the movie ‘Forrest Gump’. So much so, the filmmakers used the actual footage of Davis’ ceremony and super-imposed Tom Hanks’ face on his head. He’s been known ever since as ‘the real Forrest Gump’.
“What Forrest did is based on my actual citation,” said Davis. “I thought they put on Tom’s head and my Mama said, ‘No, Sammy Lee, those are the knobs on the back of your head and she’s right, they just put on Tom’s face.”
In the many years since his retirement, Sergeant Sammy Davis has traveled the world in support of America’s veterans with a simple message of duty we can all live by.
“I try to encourage America to stand up for what you believe is right in your heart and I try hard not to get into politics. I want you to stand up for what you believe is right,” said Davis.
The man called ‘The Real Forrest Gump’ learned to play the harmonica in Vietnam. It was reassuring to his comrades then and somehow fitting now for a Hoosier who became a true American hero.
“You don’t lose until you quit trying, and the reason I’m still here today is because my job’s not done yet.”