Friday, March 1, 2024

I Am the Real Forrest Gump

 I Am the Real Forrest Gump

By Pastor Doug Stauffer
Faith Independent Baptist Church
Journalist for Bay Life Newspaper
November 2022--Article 35 (2022-11-035)

“You don’t lose until you quit trying!”—an oft-repeated quote from Sammy Davis. You might recognize that name, but this Sammy is not an entertainer but a Vietnam War American hero.

I love to meet inspiring people, but there is always more to the story. These two interrelated stories involve sacrifice, service, honor and selflessness! They illustrate how catastrophic events produce future opportunities—both inspired by and through love. Some events in life are extraordinary; for me, they mainly involve my interactions with genuinely amazing people. We should never take for granted the wonderful people who cross our paths.

Brian and Kathy Haugen asked Sammy Davis to be the keynote speaker in a fundraiser for the Taylor Haugen Foundation. Before that event, I was blessed to attend a private luncheon with Sammy and Dixie Davis, General (Representative) Patt Maney, Colonel Jason Grandy and Colonel Brian Haugen. Yes, the conversation was indescribable.

In 1965, after high school graduation, Sammy L. Davis enlisted in the Army and volunteered to go to Vietnam. Because his father had been an artilleryman in World War II, he volunteered for the same and was assigned to the 4th Artillery. Davis said he did not go to war to kill people but wanted his dad to be proud of him. He went to war because he loved his daddy, his grandpas, and his country. Once there, they fought because they discovered they loved their comrades in arms—they became brothers.

The United States was directly involved in V
ietnam from 1965 to 1973, with over two million Americans serving in uniform, including my father. I have met several Medal of Honor recipients, including Gary Beikirch and Woody Williams. This story is about Sergeant First Class (SFC) Sammy L. Davis, another Medal of Honor recipient.

A handful of those two million servicemen distinguished themselves with acts of valor. Their actions were considered so far above and beyond the call of duty that they received the highest military honor for valor in combat—the Congressional Medal of Honor. Only 248 Vietnam soldiers were presented with the medal, making it a highly exclusive award. Sergeant First Class Sammy L. Davis was one of those 248. Over one-half of the medals were awarded posthumously.

Because Sammy Davis shared a name with the famous entertainer, his fellow soldiers sometimes chided him. Many years after his time in the Army, he would again be attached to another entertainer—Tom Hanks (or Forrest Gump). Those familiar with the story of Sammy Davis knew he was the “real” Forrest Gump Medal of Honor recipient portrayed in the movie.

Early on November 18, 1967, his unit was helicoptered into an area west of Cai Lay in the Mekong Delta to set up a forward fire-support base---Firebase Cudgel—offering support for the infantrymen operating in the area. Battery C consisted of 11 guns and 42 men.

The following day, at precisely 2 AM, Battery C came under heavy mortar attack. Thirty minutes later, a reinforced battalion, estimated at 1,500 Vietcong soldiers, launched an intense ground assault. Fortunately, a river separating the two forces helped hamper the enemy’s advance. Davis’ squad operated a 105mm Howitzer that fired shells containing eighteen thousand metal flechettes. A “beehive” round turns the Howitzer shells into a shotgun blast.

An enemy rocket-propelled grenade scored a direct hit on the howitzer, knocking the crew from the weapon, blowing Davis sideways into a foxhole, and knocking him unconscious. He was later struck by friendly fire, which caused him to regain consciousness, and Davis credits this hit with saving his life.

Over 30 razor-sharp one-inch beehive darts passed through his buttocks. Thus, the Forrest Gump story had an aspect of truth but took on a life of its own. Tom Hanks was superimposed over Davis’ head in the footage of President Johnson presenting Davis with the Medal of Honor.

Convinced that the heavily outnumbered Americans couldn’t survive the attack, Davis fired off at least one round from the damaged artillery piece before being overrun. He struggled to his feet, rammed a shell into the gun, and fired point-blank at the Vietcong advancing five deep directly in front of the weapon; the beehive round cut them down.

His wounds included a perforated kidney, crushed ribs, a broken vertebra, ripped flesh from the beehive darts and burns all over his body. He ignored his injuries and crossed the river under heavy fire to rescue three wounded American soldiers. He kept fighting the enemy until they retreated. Only 12 of the 42 soldiers survived that battle. His book, “You Don’t Lose Until You Quit Trying,” chronicles his life.

Later in the day, Davis was shot in the thigh by an enemy AK-47, earning his second Purple Heart. As amazing as this story was to hear, the love story with his wife chronicled in her book, “Endless Love and Second Chances,” reveals the impact they are making in the lives of others.

The parents of Taylor Haugen displayed the second illustration of turning catastrophic incidents into future opportunities. After suffering a ruptured liver, their son died in a Niceville football game in 2008, and Taylor’s parents have used that tragedy to touch countless lives.

They have honored their son’s memory by starting the Taylor Haugen Foundation. The Haugens devote their lives to protecting other young athletes by outfitting them with Evoshield rib protectors. The custom-molded compression shirts shield the torso from impact, the same impact that took their son’s life.

The foundation also awards scholarships, enabling many graduating athletes to pursue their college ambitions. Much more could be (and should be) said about the Haugens, but that is for another day and another story. Find out much more about this story at

 Read the newspaper (page 9, 17 West)

1 comment:

Billy Dannewitz said...

Incredible story Doug. Glad you were able to capture that moment with the "real" Forrest Gump and his story.