At 21 years old, Private First Class Sammy Lee Davis prepared to die. On November 18, 1967, his artillery unit was attacked by the North Vietnamese. The result: a perforated kidney, crushed ribs, a broken vertebrae, a bullet in his thigh and considerable burns all over his body. Not a good prognosis, but his fellow soldiers were suffering an even more hopeless fate at the very same moment: being cornered and trapped by the enemy.
Did Sammy quit? Hell to the no: he drove a two-ton Howitzer across a canal – under heavy enemy gunfire – to rescue three of his brothers in arms.
This heroic act earned him a Congressional Medal of Honor, with President Johnson acknowledging him in a White House ceremony. This image may seem familiar to you – the footage of the event was used in the film Forrest Gump.
In his memoir, YOU DON’T LOSE ‘TIL YOU QUIT TRYING, Sammy chronicles his adventures and misadventures from his all-American beginnings in the Midwest to his lifelong battle with the effects of Agent Orange and his dealing with a generation of Americans who demonized Vietnam veterans.
It’s not all bad news – life is still a box of chocolates: Sammy stands up for his fellow vets and keeps them in the spotlight when so many Americans tend to look the other way or just pay lip service to returning soldiers, if they think of them at all.
Sammy tells us that – whether we agree politically or not – it is up to us to treat our vets with the utmost respect and with the highest quality care. Part of the deal of joining the military is that America will take care of soldiers when they come home, after they’ve served their country. Well then, Sammy says, let’s take care of them.
He adds that Vietnam vets, because of the way they were treated, are very strong about standing up for today’s returning military from Iraq and Afghanistan. Many Vietnam vets – Sammy included – travel to airports and welcome back returning soldiers; Sammy says it’s important that we all do thoughtful things like that.
Although Sammy does not profess to be a savvy businessman, his lifelong motto seems to apply to everyone who is doing battle every damn day on the entrepreneurial front lines, trying to build a business, market an idea and find their place in the world: you don’t lose ‘til you quit trying.