Medal of Honor recipient and the "real" Forrest Gump Sammy Davis and his wife, Dixie, visited Augusta for three days last week. More than two thousand heard him speak and answer questions. For those who missed hearing him, here are some of the highlights.
1. When asked about the Forrest Gump movie, he pointed out that the strongest message from the book and academy award winning movie was "You don't lose until you quit trying." He also said that the scene in the movie where Tom Hanks receives the Medal of Honor from President Lyndon Johnson is the actual footage from his award ceremony. The movie director had placed Tom Hanks' face on Sammy's body.
2. When asked why he didn't stay in his foxhole after he had been so badly wounded, he replied that he had an obligation to help his buddies who were in such desperate shape (his unit of 42 soldiers was being attacked by 1,500 enemy soldiers). His fellow soldiers knew he would help them and, in turn, he knew that they would help him. Sammy feels that without that commitment by every soldier, all would have died that day.
3. WHEN ASKED about his wounds, he told of being shot in the leg, being hit by 30 small "beehive darts" in the back, and having his back and ribs crushed by a howitzer that fell on him. It was after being so badly wounded that he paddled an air mattress across the river twice to rescue his three wounded buddies.
4. Asked whether he is still in pain, he replied modestly that every day he is reminded of that day in combat.
5. He stressed how important service, selflessness and patriotism are on the part of Americans if this nation is to remain strong and free.
He was challenged on his point about patriotism by someone who indicated that some intelligent people questioned the value of patriotism. He gave his answer in a quiet and polite way by suggesting that people who feel that way about patriotism may not actually be very intelligent.
6. When asked how we was greeted on his return from a year in combat, he told a sad and poignant story.
He and his fellow combat veterans walked through a gauntlet of anti-war protesters in the San Francisco airport in 1968. Warned by a sergeant not to react to their abuse, Sammy and his fellow soldiers stoically marched single file through this gauntlet. The protesters clubbed him and his fellow soldiers with canes and rubbed dog droppings on their heads.
AFTER TELLING that story, Sammy said that he and thousands of his fellow Vietnam veterans vowed among themselves that never again would American soldiers returning from combat be treated so disrespectfully.
Sgt. 1st Class Sammy Davis has spoken to more than 2 million school children throughout the country. He passes his Medal of Honor around the audience so that all can touch, however briefly, this most iconic medal.
Next year at this time another Medal of Honor recipient, Jack Jacobs, will visit Augusta. He will speak at the Boy Scout fund-raiser at the upper room at St. Paul's church on the evening of Friday, Nov. 13.
This year's dinner sold out weeks before the event, so I suggest you put the date on your calendar and make your reservations no later than Oct. 1, 2009. In addition to his featured appearance for the Boy Scouts, Col. Jacobs will speak at a number of schools, to the Augusta Exchange Club and to 1,000 soldiers at Fort Gordon.
INCIDENTALLY, JACOBS has a brand new book out which my wife Connor and I thoroughly enjoyed. If Not Now, When? tells the life story of a remarkable American. I especially recommend it to veterans and middle school and high school students. This book does not contain one word of profanity. It makes a great Christmas present.
(Maj. Gen. Perry Smith, U.S.Air Force retired, is the secretary of the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation. He assisted in the editing of the best-selling book, Medal of Honor by Peter Collier.)