While sitting with Phil Davis, a local Meadville man and President of the Welcome Home Association, Post 52 and sharing a cup of coffee; Davis shared a part of his time in the Army with me.
I, being a Life Member of Post 52 and having known Davis for over twenty years, this interview was different for me. Phil Davis and his wife Laurie are dear friends of mine and a part of my Veteran Family. We have been there for each other through many of life’s trials and triumphs. I’m not sure why I decided to ask Davis to speak with me. Maybe it was time for me to ask and time for him to share. Below is a snapshot in time of a 19 year old Army Air Mobile Ranger in Vietnam.
Davis was drafted into the United States Army upon graduation from high school. Davis completed his Basic Training at Fort Dix, NJ and his Advanced Infantry Training and Jungle School Training at Fort Polk, LA. Davis was assigned as Cadre at Fort Dix until he received his orders for Vietnam.
Davis served in Vietnam as an 11B20 Infantryman from 1971 to 1972 in Pleiku Vietnam with the 1st Aviation Brigade 7/17th Air Cavalry “D” Troop, Ranger Unit, an Air Mobile unit (not Airborne).
Davis was “Air Mobile”, meaning when on a recon mission and approaching the landing zone (LZ), the Huey (Bell UH-1 Helicopter) would hover several feet above the ground and the soldiers would jump out from that height. “I was not Airborne; that is a different designation. I never made a “jump”…that wasn’t my forte. We would go out on recon missions; to downed helicopters, shot down, for whatever reason, they were on the ground and they needed help.”
Missions could last a single day or several days, “you never really knew”.
“I was at Camp Holloway. It was very hot, 120 degrees in the highlands of Pleiku; hot, wet and very hard to keep dry. It was not very pleasant.”
“Our base would get mortared regularly as we were a huge helicopter base. We had a massive helicopter pad with Cobras and Hueys, we were the Hub for copters…when we’d get mortared, they (Cobras) would go out and bomb the area and then we (Air Mobile Unit) went out the next day to recon.”
Once the unit was sent out on a mission, “it was fast”. Upon reaching the LZ, the pilot would hover above the ground and the men would jump, hit, roll and secure a perimeter for the rest of the guys coming off of the other helicopters. The team typically flew in “Hueys”. Davis explained “Sometimes it would be 6 guys in a Huey along with 2 pilots and a door gunner hanging out to cover our ass. Other times we had more guys with us. It wasn’t just us all the time. Depending on the mission, there could be several Hueys loaded with our guys. It was hot, noisy, confusing and you’re pretty anxious, wondering what may happen when we get to where we’re going.”
Davis shared, “Each time we’d jump into a LZ, that part?… jumping into ‘you don’t know what’…it was pretty scary. You can’t think about it. You just do it.”
The terrain in the area was mountainous with a lot of heavy, thick vegetation, which provided a lot of cover; “a lot of places you could hide or they (the Viet Cong) could hide. It’s interesting the things that stick in your mind. I remember when I would hit and roll, in that split second of facing the sky, I’d look up to be sure the Cobras were up there to cover us.”
Once all men were out of the helicopters, the Hueys and Cobras would “bug out of there fast”.
Davis continued, “We would run into the Viet Cong sometimes. I’ll just leave it at that. But a lot of times we would go out, whoever we were looking for, they were long gone. Most times, we had an idea of what was going on where we were headed, but you never knew what would actually be there when you got there. At times it seemed like a waste of time…but others? It wasn’t, it wasn’t a waste of time.”
I asked Davis if they had much interaction with the locals; “We didn’t really interact with the local people. We were usually on lock down and didn’t get to go anywhere. If you did go into the city, you always had someone with you, always. The only locals we would regularly see were the “hooch maids” the ones who cleaned the buildings.”
There is one day in the time of his deployment that Davis would like to share; “One time sticks in my head. This helicopter was down; crashed and on fire. We went in to secure the area. There were no bodies anywhere but there were helmets and papers and other stuff lying around. What happened to these guys? Where were they? I personally never saw a physical body or body part on that particular mission. That has always stuck in my mind. Did I miss something? Did I block it out? Were they taken prisoner? I just don’t know. That stays with me, all these years.”
One other thing that has stayed with Davis is the “smell of burning crap, human waste. The smell was always there, pour kerosene on the crap and burn it. I never had that job thank God….but the smell was always there. That sticks with me; you just don’t forget it, even after all these years.”
Forty-two years to be exact. It has been forty-two years since Phil Davis was in Vietnam. I wondered why he continues to be so involved in the Welcome Home Association and Post 52, a local veteran organization. Davis shared “It’s hard to put into words for me. It wasn’t until years later that I was starting my life that any of this started to make sense to me. I guess that’s why I am so involved in the POW/MIA (Prisoner of War/Missing in Action) issue and Post 52, because of my time in Vietnam. I was 19 years old in Vietnam thinking, “am I gonna make it home? How would I be when I got back, what would people be like when I got back?”
When Davis did return home, “nothing was normal, everything seemed different.”
Davis explained “I became so used to a very high stress level, which became normal and then? I’m “home”. nothing normal about it.”
I drank a lot. I wasn’t an alcoholic, but I did drink a lot, just trying to get through one day at a time.”
“I made a very good friend, a Navy Seal. We’d see each other every once in a while although we didn’t even know each other. I don’t even remember how we met. He was the one who would remind me I had to get my head together. He helped me a lot, keeping me on the right path. We were supposed to meet I guess. It’s been so many years since I came home but it’s a feeling…a feeling that I’m different from other people.”
So here we are in 2014 with so many years having passed. How does Davis view himself now, in present time?
“I’m a Vietnam Vet. I’m just a guy trying to help other people. That’s what I am. I’m no war hero and will never say I was. I didn’t see what other guys saw or went through. Just me. Everyone’s time was different, every experience different.”
“God must have put me where I am now. I never would have chosen this path I am on, but in my heart, I know I am doing what I should be doing.”
Davis shares his concern for our younger veterans, “I can see that history is repeating itself with our veterans. We try to let the younger ones know “we’ve been there, done that”. Some listen, some don’t. We don’t have many of the younger ones joining our Post, or any post. I don’t understand it. They struggle on their own. It worries me.”
In closing, I ask, would you do it again? “Yes” is Davis’ immediate reply.
God bless America and all who have and will defend her.