“It’s crazy how much ‘based on a true story’ is actually not so true,”
commented one IndianaTech student after visiting with the real “Forrest Gump.”
Sgt. Sammy Davis visited the campus to talk to any students interested in hearing him Tuesday. He was in Fort Wayne to attend a luncheon at the City Hall. Attendance to his visit was completely voluntary yet about 150 students still showed up. Sgt. Davis didn’t give a speech. Instead, attendees watched a short documentary about “The Real Forrest Gump” and then he opened up for a question and answer period.
One of the first questions asked was, “So how much of the movie is real?” Sgt. Davis (who is not slow at all by the way) said the only real part of the movie is the battle scene. However, he was not shot just once in the rear, he had 30 holes that went straight through his body between his lower back and upper thigh. “Lieutenant Dan” didn’t lose his legs like the movie portrayed, but died in that battle. Sgt. Davis’s wife’s name is Dixie, not Jenny. While recovering in the hospital after the battle, he said they played pool, not ping pong and they caught catfish, not shrimp. “You mean there’s no Bubba Gump!?” One attendee asked.
The movie did use actual footage of him receiving the Medal of Honor from President Lyndon B. Johnson. One person asked if he really mooned the President. Laughing, he replied,
“If he would have asked, I woulda been proud to do that!”
He explained how he had been speaking in Kokomo, Indiana one time to a group of thousands of veterans. A door opened up in the back but he couldn’t see who was coming in. He noticed the crowd parting and realized someone had walked up to the stage. “Sammy Davis, is that you?” a voice asked. Immediately recognizing it as the voice of one of his “brothers” he fought with, Davis said he leaped off the stage and in front of thousands of men, began hugging and kissing and weeping over this man.
Marie Martin, one of the attendees, told me after the event that she was really glad she had attended. She said,”He’s just a very humble guy, very lively and funny. I’m really glad I got to hear him tell his story.”
Sgt. Davis also told the story of his first few months in war. Since he couldn’t find anything good to write home about, he just didn’t. After 63 days without once writing home, he was in his foxhole early one morning when he heard boots approaching. No one was up and about that early in the morning so every possible worst-case scenario ran through his head when the boots stopped at his foxhole. “You been writing your mother?” his Lieutenant asked. “No, sir. I was waiting for something good to write her about,” he said. He was then informed that his mother had contacted the Red Cross, asking if her son were still alive. His Lieutenant instructed him to write his mother, whether he had good news to share or not. After that, Sgt. Davis said, he wrote to his mother everyday. He would find the most basic things to write about so as not to scare her with what was really happening. Things like fish and rhinoceros beetles, which he said were quite entertaining. “Those suckers were huge!” he told Tech students. He explained that the guys would drop two beetles on each side of a steel pot and the beetles would fight. When one of them “won” by flipping over the other, it would make a “hehehe” sound.
His mother, thinking he was bored since all he had to write about were fish and beetles, sent him a harmonica. His Lieutenant asked him to play “Shenandoah” on it every night and he obliged. His Lieutenant died in battle while in Vietnam. Sgt. Davis said he was supposed to speak at the Vietnam Memorial at 7 a.m. after it was completed.
At 2 a.m. Sgt. Davis crept quietly in and found his Lieutenant’s name, playing “Shenandoah” forÂ him one last time. When the song was over and he turned around, there stood about 300 military personnel behind him, honoring the fallen. He was surprised to see them there as he thought the place was deserted, though he found out they had been sleeping at the site, watching over the memorial to their fallen brothers.
When asked what advice he would give to someone getting ready to deploy right now, Sgt. Davis responded:
“You don’t lose until you quit.”
He was also asked,
“What was your biggest lesson in going to war?”
To which he replied,
“What true love actually is. The brotherhood formed in military.”
He told attendees that he didn’t deserve the Medal of Honor because he was just doing his job.
“Forty-two men fought in that battle and there should have been forty-two medals of honor,”
he said. Sgt. Davis is one of 79 living medal of honor recipients.
“Really the only true scene is the battle scene. The producers reached out to me and vaguely, and I stress vaguely, included things in my life.”
He played “Shenandoah” on the harmonica and saluted at the end of the event, leaving every heart in the place touched to some degree. Most left in tears. The event lasted two hours, but to attendees like Martin, she says it seemed like a very short time.