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March 27. Rick Davis was February Veteran of the Month at VFW Snell Post 7186. A Marine who served in Vietnam, Mr. Davis came to Evanston from Indiana by way of Texas. He and his wife have lived here more than 40 years, first raising a family and easing into retirement after a long career at Bose Corporation.
An uncle who served in World War II “influenced me to be pro-service” he said, leaving Purdue University after only two years of study and enlisting during the Vietnam War.
E5 Sergeant Richard Davis worked in Graves Registration in Vietnam. “We were in the rear of a Navy hospital. The wounded and dead came in by helicopter. We would take the wounded to the hospital. With the dead, we would remove the guns and ammunition, go through the pockets and cut off the clothes, making a list of everything.
“We noted scars and tattoos, fingerprinted the body and checked for dental records. A doctor would give the cause of death, and a chaplain would administer the last rites,” Mr. Davis said. The bodies were shipped to Da Nang, where each was embalmed and put into a silver casket and then flown home, he said. He estimates his team processed about 5,000 bodies.
One occasion stands out in his memory of that grim task. “In August of 1969, [the body of] Colonel John Dowd was brought into Graves Registration, accompanied by some of his men. This was the only time Marines came into show respect.” Sgt. Davis processed the body and contacted the Colonel’s wife. Their acquaintance evolved into a friendship, and later Sgt. Davis gave speeches about the Marine colonel “who was so beloved by his men.”
Returning to this country, Sgt. Davis completed his education at Purdue and married his high-school sweetheart. At that time, he had no apparent wounds, “though I was almost killed about nine times,” he said.
But he had been injured, as he and many other Vietnam veterans later discovered, by exposure to toxic chemicals in the war. He has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and the Veterans Administration considers him 80% disabled.
During his two tours in Vietnam, he said, “I believed in what we were doing.” But after he was discharged and he was married, attitudes changed. But “I respect everybody’s service,” he said.
His career at Bose took him to Dallas and then back to the Midwest. In Evanston, he also began volunteering, often giving his “Colonel Dowd” speech at high schools, Rotary Club meetings, Eagle Scout meetings and the like.
After the attack of Sept. 11, he still gave speeches at local high schools – New Trier, Glenbrook, Stevenson and Evanston Township High School – but what he said was different.
“During the 9/11 [period] war was pretty much on the kids’ minds. Some would stand up and say, ‘Let’s go to war.’
“And I would ask them, ‘Are you willing to give up all of your life as you now know it? Are you willing to give up your life? Are you willing to kill another human being? If you answer no to any of those questions, find another way to address the problem.’ Most kids would say ‘No’ to all three of those questions, I suspect.”
A member of Snell Post 7186, Mr. Davis said he was drawn to the VFW, “because of the values: integrity, serving your country and serving other people.”