Veteran has view of the here and now

Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Thomas A. "Drew" Davidson stands at his law office where there's a photo of him being awarded the Purple Heart by Army Gen. James F. Hollingsworth in 1972.

Appreciation and hope were at the crux of the message from the American Legion's featured speaker yesterday on the east steps of the Marshall County Courthouse where this community marks Veterans Day every year.

"We appreciate the honor to veterans," said Thomas A. "Drew" Davidson who joined the U.S. Army during the Berlin Wall Crisis, "but we hope that the young people of our country still have the fire in their belly to defend our country."

Davidson shared his Veterans Day remarks early for this story on Friday, his 67th birthday. In his law office kitchen, within sight of the Courthouse steps, he described some of what he calls his "rather stormy little life."

As much as he'll speak his mind on the editorial page and elsewhere, Davidson's response to a request for help with his introduction yesterday omitted the fact that he's been awarded the Purple Heart twice. They are among his 76 military awards and decorations, 66 of which arose from combat assignments during his 20-year Army career. Nevertheless, his black Lincoln Town Car bears a prestige plate noting the medal.

"My mother, drunk or sober; My country, right or wrong," he said. "We've got to have some loyalty somewhere."

As black and white as that stand may seem, Davidson is practical, realistic and a well-spring of advise for his fellow Americans.

"There's got to be a way to dissent, respectfully," he said, advocating the ballot box instead of out loud in some way that might help the enemy in times of conflict. "I think we just did that," he said of last week's election.

Yet, Davidson also paraphrased the World War II admonishment; "Loose lips sink ships."

Combat "is a young man's game," he continued, acknowledging he's approaching his seventh decade on Earth. "It's for those 40 and younger.

"Today," he continued with his reflection on youth, "I wonder if they can do it."

Having said so, he tempers it with: "I don't want them to be Rambos, either."

Contrary to that heroic movie image, Davidson explains in a hushed tone, "Firefights are horrible."

The mind races. Time seems to slow down. He remembers every step, shot, sound, and dozens of nearby deaths.

Asked for a narrative, Davidson responds with an overview, a summary. It's to the point and hits the mark first. Details are in the Pacific Stars & Stripes edition of Sunday, April 30, 1972.

"Major ran for his life 4 days, and won," headlines his story with the kicker: "Dodged Red captors of Loc Ninh." Communist troops overran Loc Ninh, Vietnam after a three-day siege. Davidson defended South Vietnamese families. Amid air attacks, the runway's compound burned, so Davidson's group and another ran across the airstrip, realizing there was no rescue flight.

What the Stars & Stripes report didn't have was that Loc Ninh fell after human-wave attacks were superseded after the North Vietnamese infantry acquired Russia Tiger Tanks.

Captured and declared prisoners of war, Davidson and another American officer hadn't been disarmed. They shot their way out while U.S. Air Force A-37 Fighters bombed and strafed the area, apparently thinking they were fleeing enemy troops.

Their four-day escape without compass, map or weapons, included trees raked by machine gun fire, hiding places in tree tops, a swamp, river, and in the middle of a North Vietnamese camp.

"Once, about 50 of them walked by so close we could have tripped them," Davidson told Stars & Stripes. Allied aircraft bombs "didn't hit us, but they came close enough to scare hell out of us."

Davidson broke a rib in swift rapids and nearly drowned carrying his Vietnamese comrade through deep water. At dusk on the fourth day, with blistered feet, smarting wounds and aching ribs, he found Army Rangers.

Gen. James F. Hollingsworth wrote on a photo of his presentation of the Purple Heart to Davidson that the medal was to "a great fighter, soldier and my friend." The photo is on a wall at Davidson's office.

In the years since his wounds from nasty grenades made to wound and not kill, there would be tiny bits of metal that finally worked their way from his arms. Those grenades were to maim so two other soldiers would be preoccupied by saving a comrade not immediately killed by the bomb.

His first Purple Heart was a result of a bullet fired through the windshield of the "Bird-Dog" he was flying. The shot severed his microphone wire on his helmet. Shards of glass cut his face and arms.

John F. Kennedy was president when Davidson was drafted. Instead of accepting fate, he enlisted to regain some control. He selected his training and what was to have been a comparatively short hitch turned into "20+ years," he said.

Davidson retired in March 1982, enrolled in the Nashville School of Law in 1986 and returned to Lewisburg the next year to begin his law career here in 1992.

He was recalled to six months of active duty for Desert Storm. He worked at the Armory, providing support for soldiers' families.

Now, as it would appear that America's involvement in that same Middle East Theater is to be reduced for withdrawal, Davidson says "Our soldiers are proud of what they're doing and they want to stay there and finish it.

"The don't want to be pulled out before the Iraqis can take care of themselves."

He's got an inside track for that insight.

Davidson received his parachute "jump wings" in April 1963. Similar "wings" were pinned on his oldest son at Fort Benning, Ga., in 1993. U.S. Army Lt. Col. David S. Davidson is stationed at Division Headquarters in North Baghdad. He's due to return in March.

In 2002, Davidson married Cathie (Moon) Oldham, daughter of the late Jimmy and Miriam Moon of Lewisburg. Davidson's first wife, the former Miss Carolyn Bigham, died of cancer in April 2000.

The feisty lawyer and his wife live on Forrest Street. Between them, they have seven sons, seven daughters-in-law, 15 grandchildren and, are apparently anticipating more to brag on.