THE REAL FORREST GUMP – Sgt. Sammy L. Davis, U.S. Army, Vietnam War, Medal of Honor

Retired Sergeant Sammy L. Davis, Medal of Honor
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Retired Sergeant Sammy L. Davis, Medal of Honor

BY DUANE A. VACHON, PH.D.    What makes a hero?  I have written about hundreds of heroes over the years and am sure there is not a shake and mix formula to create one. Ironically one of the things many of them have in common is they don’t appear to have the trappings that you would normally associate with a hero.  The other common thread that they seem to share is in a world that encourages whistle blowers, snitches, and ratting out on your mates they are always the opposite.   In many cases they have made the ultimate sacrifice for their mates.

Davis is a special hero to me, we are both Hoosiers, and in my younger days I was a keen harmonica player, Davis still is.


Davis joined the Army from Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1965 and after basic training and advanced training  in the artillery Davis was assigned to Battery C, 2nd Battalion, 4th Artillery Regiment, 9th Infantry Division, in the Republic of Vietnam. On November 18th 1967 he was with his unit west of Cai Lay when they came under heavy mortar attack by the North Vietnamese Army as around 1,500 NVA swarmed the area. Often referred to as Viet Cong, these attackers were regulars from the North Vietnamese Army.  Viet Cong rarely gathered in large numbers. When Davis located the position of the enemy,  he manned a machine gun to give his mates covering fire so they could fire artillery in response. Although wounded, Davis ignored warnings to take cover. He manned the unit’s burning  howitzer by himself and fired several shells. Despite being unable to swim (due to injuries; Davis knew how to swim), he crossed a river on an air mattress to help rescue three wounded American soldiers. He ultimately found his way to another howitzer site to continue fighting the NVA attack until they fled. He was subsequently promoted to sergeant and received the Medal of Honor the following year. Davis was forced to retire in 1984 due to his injuries. Footage of his Medal of Honor award ceremony was used in the 1994 film Forrest Gump, with actor Tom Hanks‘  head superimposed over that of Davis.


Medal of Honor Citation

Rank and organization: Sergeant, U.S. Army, Battery C, 2d Battalion, 4th Artillery, 9th Infantry Division. Place and date: West of Cai Lay, Republic of Vietnam, 18 November 1967. Entered service at: Indianapolis, Ind. Born: 1 November 1946, Dayton, Ohio. Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life and beyond the call of duty. Sgt. Davis (then PFc.) distinguished himself during the early morning hours while serving as a cannoneer with Battery C, at a remote fire support base. At approximately 0200 hours, the fire support base was under heavy enemy mortar attack. Simultaneously, an estimated reinforced Viet Cong battalion launched a fierce ground assault upon the fire support base. The attacking enemy drove to within 25 meters of the friendly positions. Only a river separated the Viet Cong from the fire support base. Detecting a nearby enemy position, Sgt. Davis seized a machinegun and provided covering fire for his guncrew, as they attempted to bring direct artillery fire on the enemy. Despite his efforts, an enemy recoilless rifle round scored a direct hit upon the artillery piece. The resultant blast hurled the guncrew from their weapon and blew Sgt. Davis into a foxhole. He struggled to his feet and returned to the howitzer, which was burning furiously. Ignoring repeated warning to seek cover, Sgt. Davis rammed a shell into the gun. Disregarding a withering hail of enemy fire directed against his position, he aimed and fired the howitzer which rolled backward, knocking Sgt. Davis violently to the ground. Undaunted, he returned to the weapon to fire again when an enemy mortar round exploded within 20 meters of his position, injured him painfully. Nevertheless, Sgt. Davis loaded the artillery piece, aimed and fired. Again he was knocked down by the recoil. In complete disregard for his safety, Sgt. Davis loaded and fired 3 more shells into the enemy. Disregarding his extensive injuries and his inability to swim, Sgt. Davis picked up an air mattress and struck out across the deep river to rescue 3 wounded comrades on the far side. Upon reaching the 3 wounded men, he stood upright and fired into the dense vegetation to prevent the Viet Cong from advancing. While the most seriously wounded soldier was helped across the river, Sgt. Davis protected the 2 remaining casualties until he could pull them across the river to the fire support base. Though suffering from painful wounds, he refused medical attention, joining another howitzer crew which fired at the large Viet Cong force until it broke contact and fled, 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.


//S//     Lyndon Johnson President

The information in this article was sourced from a variety of sources both internal and external. Every effort was made to ensure that the information is current and correct. These articles are presented to honor the heroes they are written about.





  1. Too bad Davis then and now exaggerates his involvement in that battle. He and two other "heroes" swan the river to rescue three people. According to eye witnesses that night, Davis and two other men, Lee Alley and Bill Murray swam the river to bring back three injured men from Recon Platoon. Davis never stood and fired to hold off the VC, They all kept low. Since that time, Davis's story has grown to say he singlehandedly rescued those men. It is a shame and crime to lie to get the MOH and continue the lie. There were never 1500 VC, best estimates was a Batallion of maybe 300. There are many survivors of that night to validate these statements. Stop hailing David as a hero.

  2. We heard him speak two weeks ago… husband is a Marine who served in Vietnam, and two other couples that joined us are also Marine's who served in Vietnam, ( one of which was MIA for 6 months-when he was shot down) with their wives…We were very taken back by Sgt Davis's comments against the Marines, stating at one point, a women-who got her punishment….by marrying a Marine. The first comment we ignored-but when he repeated these types of things several times, it became insulting to us. Out of respect we did not stand up and confront him…though I wanted to jump up and say " I am a Marine Vietnam Vet Wife and Proud of it!". I was not surprised to read the posting above that his story is now "exagerated" from the reality of what happened.

    • i can completely understand why you found his speech insulting and I';m not trying to find excuses for him, but I think perception plays a huge part in this story. this was his experience and his opinion – which, by the way, is shared by many many men and women all over the world..

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