Sammy Davis, Freedom, an American Hero, spoke to approximately 1,000 people Monday morning at the start of the Tracey Yeager Memorial 5K Run/Walk in Winona Lake. Davis is one of 79 living Medal of Honor winners, and the only Hoosier.
“While we gather today with family and friends … please remember our honored fallen as they are our true heroes of America,” stated Davis. “I don’t consider myself a hero. I’m a soldier and I did for my brothers what I knew they would do for me. How could I not, that night, when I looked across the river and seen one of my brothers stand up and wave at me. How could I not go get him, cause I knew in my heart he would come get me. You simply do for your brothers what they would do for you. That’s not being a hero, that’s being a brother.”
Davis noted similarities between the current war and that of Vietnam. “One of the similarities are, so many people are disconnected for what it happening … Too much of America does not understand the dedication that our young men and women have today. Today we have both men and women in the combat zone …” He noted the problems these veterans have upon returning home. “What we need to do is get a better understanding what they face not only there but when they come home …”
Davis encouraged individuals to reach out to veterans to help, ask them questions. While they may say they are fine “if you are gently insistent … they will eventually open, it’s like opening up their heart … help them be better … all of us working together can get this job done…”
A part of his address, Davis told how he came to learn to play the harmonica. It was sent to him by his mother. He had not written home for 63 days as he did not want to write about the things they were experiencing at the time. His mother contacted the Red Cross, who in turned contacted the Pentagon that was gathering a list of those who had not written home. It turned out 51 from his unit of around 100 had not written home regularly. His captain was notified by the Pentagon to have the boys write home.
“I don’t care what you write about, you will write home every day,” Davis was told by his captain. That he did. He wrote about the bugs, the mud, the monkeys, bananas, the baby elephant that was with them. A few weeks later he received a package from home. Thinking it was his mother’s famous oatmeal raisin cookies, it contained a harmonica and a note: “Son, I hope this you helps you, not to be quite so bored.”
That harmonica and box are in the medal of honor museum. He learned to play after a sergeant asked him to play Shenandoah. Practicing for hours and weeks and getting pointers from the sergeant, he learned the song. He had asked the sergeant why that song. The sergeant stated he would drive to the Shenandoah River Valley. The site and cool breaze would renew his heart and give “his soul strength again.”
Davis concluded by playing Shenandoah, hoping that song “would help your heart remember no matter what we’re faced with, you don’t loose until we quite trying.”
Approximately 700 runners and walkers then gathered at the start line for the annual 5K event.