Campus Event Honoring Vietnam War Hero Sammy Davis—‘The Real Forrest Gump’

Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Sammy L. Davis

Sammy L. Davis’ story of heroism in the heat of battle in the Vietnam War earned the Medal of Honor and inspired the character Forrest Gump of the Academy Award-winning movie.

Duty, honor and country are principles that decorated Vietnam War hero and Indiana resident Sammy Lee Davis upheld throughout his military service career. He is one of 71 living Medal of Honor recipients who helped inspire the character Forrest Gump in the eponymous Academy Award-winning movie.

Davis will give a free, public presentation Feb. 9, starting at 3 p.m., in the Hatfield Hall theater that will include a video presentation featuring his war heroics. He would welcome the opportunity to meet other military veterans while also signing copies of his autobiography, “You Don’t Lose ’Til You Quit Trying: Lessons on Adversity from a Vietnam Veteran and Medal of Honor Recipient.”

“It is definitely an honor and privilege whenever you’re fortunate to be in the presence of a Medal of Honor recipient,” says event co-organizer Lieutenant Colonel Matt Miller, professor of military science for Wabash Battalion Army ROTC program, which includes cadets from Rose-Hulman and four other Indiana colleges. “We’re going to make sure our cadets, local high school Junior ROTC members and military veterans get to take advantage of this unique opportunity.”

Davis enlisted as an Army soldier after graduating from Mooresville High School in Indiana. After being trained as an artillery cannoneer, the young private first-class began an assignment with the 4th Artillery Corps at a fire-support base deep in the South Vietnamese jungle. Early the next morning, Nov. 18, 1967, under a moonlit sky, Davis found himself fighting for his life and the lives of 42 comrades as the encampment was besieged by mortar fire and ground forces from an estimated 1,500 Viet Cong soldiers.

During the next 48 hours, Davis would discharge rounds of ammunition against the advancing enemy, out-smart the Viet Cong by playing “dead” during the course of battle, and assist in carrying three wounded U.S. soldiers to safety across a river that separated the warring forces—disregarding his own debilitating injuries and a fear of swimming. It is estimated that the battle lasted two hours.

On Nov. 19, 1968, exactly one year and one day after the attack, Davis, then a sergeant, received the Medal of Honor from President Lyndon Johnson in a White House Oval Office ceremony. Colorized footage of the event appeared in the movie Forrest Gump, with Tom Hanks' head edited onto Davis' body. Gump's fictional Medal of Honor heroics were loosely based on Davis' battle experience.

President Johnson said, “Sgt. Davis' extraordinary heroism, at the risk of his life, are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself and the U.S. Army.”

Davis retired from the military in 1984 due to his war-time injuries. He is the recipient of three Purple Hearts, a Silver Star and numerous other awards for valor and bravery. He returned to South Vietnam in 2016 to revisit the site of his unit’s epic battle.

Today, Davis, 71, lives in the Owen County community of Freedom, Ind., with his wife, Dixie, who also has written a book, “Endless Love: Second Chances,” about the couple’s relationship.

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