Sgt. Larry Davis was Gilmer’s only NCO killed in Vietnam
It was mail call, yet Larry Davis had neither letters nor packages from home. It was Sept. 15, 1970, and it would be his last chance to receive mail.
“Larry didn’t get any mail that particular night,” Bea Davis Rice, one of his older sisters, said after she received information from a unit chaplain. “This guy that was supposed to run the radio wire up the hill where he was (deployed) got some mail, and Larry said, ‘I’ll run the wire for you tonight. You go ahead and open your (care) package, and if you got something good, save me a little bit.’”
Sgt. Larry Franklin Davis, 21, was killed in Binh Dinh province that night. A member of the light weapons unit of B Company, 8th Infantry, 3rd Battalion, 4th Infantry Division, he had only been in Vietnam 3-1/2 months. His parents were Arvil Franklin and Roma Evans Davis. He is buried in New Hope Baptist Church Cemetery.
Larry was the sixth and final man from Gilmer County killed in Vietnam, and the only noncommissioned officer (NCO). He was the youngest of three brothers and four sisters, Bea said.
“He was one of the kindest, sweetest little boys in the whole world,” she remarked. “I was at least 13 years older than him. He was the baby of the family, and we all doted on him.”
After Larry graduated Gilmer High in 1967, he stayed with Bea and her husband, Jim, while he attended Greenleaf Business School so he wouldn’t have to pay for his own place.
“Coming out of a little school in north Georgia, he didn’t quite have as good a background in math as he should have had,” she recalled. “Jim was really good at math and tutored him just about every night. I remember my husband saying he was about one of the smartest people he’d ever helped, he just caught onto everything so easily.
“Larry held down a full-time job in his senior year of high school, and yet had perfect attendance. I felt that was quite an accomplishment.”
Danny Logan considered Larry his best friend.
“We went to school and graduated together,” he said. “We hung out together, went fishing a lot, rode around looking for girls — the teenage stuff you did back in the day. We worked together, we both got a job over at Hampton Mills (in Ellijay). We both went to Atlanta to Greenleaf at the same time.
“Larry was a great guy, outgoing, real friendly and loved everybody, and everybody liked him. He was a real good person.”
Danny said he and Larry were drafted at the same time, and went into the Army together on Friday, June 13, 1969. Danny said after he got draft papers he went ahead and volunteered for the draft — which was allowed in those days — and was sent to Fort Campbell (Ky.) for basic, and Larry was sent to Fort Benning and then Vietnam. Danny’s brother, Jerry, already was in Vietnam and Danny was not sent.
Ronnie Dale was another good friend and had high school classes with Larry.
“He was a pretty smart kid,” he said. “He liked the outdoors, and I remember we used to wrestle a lot. I had been over there (to Vietnam) with the 82nd Airborne Division, and came back. I talked to him before we went over there, he went to school to be a sergeant. His MOS (military occupational specialty) was infantry, and it was tough over there for infantry. Going straight out of the states and school, being an E-5 (pay grade) going into an infantry unit, you would be in charge, experience or no experience. I told him about that, and he dreaded going, and I know how he felt because I was in the same boat he was in.
“Larry was a good person, he sure was.”
Jerry Logan served in Vietnam in the 533rd Engineers, just before Larry, from 1969-70.
“I just got back from Vietnam when he was going in the Army,” he recalled. “He was at the house with Danny, and I told him I wouldn’t get drafted – join the Air Force or something. I told him they’ll put you in the infantry just as sure as you go if you get drafted. And that’s exactly what they done. That’s the last time I seen him.
“After he went to NCO School, they made him a buck sergeant and put him on the point (at the head of the platoon) when they were out on patrol in the jungle. That’s a bad place to be, out front on the point in the infantry. He was the front man; that’s what they did to the inexperienced guys. They let you learn in a hurry or get killed. He and Danny were up at the house a lot. He was a good boy, and he had a good future in front of him.”
‘Killed in my place’
Bea and Jim gave Larry a party on his 21st birthday, and the day after he graduated from business school he was drafted.
“Momma and Daddy really sacrificed to send him down to Greenleaf,” she said. “It was kind of a sad like time. He walked around through the house, and normally he was never one for being morbid. And he said, ‘Bea, I may never make it back.’ It really bothered me.”
Bea remembered it being a Saturday morning when she and Jim received the bad news.
“We had not even gotten up because we could sleep late on the weekends a lot of times,” she said. “I recall the call coming through, and how we were in such shock. I still have all the letters he sent. He had letters addressed to all of us (family members) from Vietnam that never got mailed. He had not finished all of them. After he was killed, they sent all of his belongings to me, because I think it would have been just too painful for my parents.”
A chain of events helped the family learn what happened.
“It was the strangest thing,” Bea said. “He was the lead sergeant, and I had the list of the names of people he was over there with. I just chose a name out of that group of men and wrote one of them a letter and asked, ‘What really happened?’ You get the version from the (military) people, of course. But I didn’t hear back from this guy.”
Finally, a chaplain informed the family the man she had written to could not write back.
“How I know all this was that I happened to choose the man’s name that Larry ran the wire for, and he said, ‘Larry was killed in my place,’” Bea continued. “It tormented him, because Larry was the lead sergeant and he wouldn’t have had to run that radio wire, but he did. It was years later that this guy got in touch with all the family, and he had kinda turned into being an alcoholic.
“He got in touch with my nephew, Mark, and was telling him all this. And Mark told him, ‘You know, none of the family would have held you responsible for that, because he volunteered to do that for you.’ So the way we looked at all that is that it must have been his time to go, and this other fellow wasn’t ready to go.
“I’m glad we didn’t know that until years later. I thought how ironic it was that I would choose that man to write the letter to. So we looked at it like that must be God’s providence.”
‘Still impacts me’
Danny was standing in formation at Fort Hood, Texas, when he got the bad news.
“They came out and told me,” he said, his voice growing husky. “I was getting ready to come home, and they told me his family requested I be the military escort for him. They flew me out to Dover Air Force Base (Delaware), that’s where they bring everybody that’s killed, to prepare them. When they loaded his remains on the plane, I watched over him.”
Larry had told Danny they were being fired on with B-40 rockets, a Soviet antitank weapon supplied to their allies. The HonorStates.org webpage says Larry “died through hostile action, small arms fire,” in Binh Dinh.
Bea remembers the week it took to get Larry’s body home was “the absolute longest week in the world.”
Ronnie called it a “killer” when he got the news.
“I still think about him, because I took it hard,” he said. “Things like that happen, but I don’t hardly know how to explain unless you’ve gone through it. I’ve been to (Washington) D.C. twice to The Wall, and me and my wife looked up all the boys from here that got killed over there. I took pictures of all their names.”
Ronnie served with Charles Burgess of Ellijay at Fort Sill, Okla., for awhile, and was also in Vietnam when Burgess was killed. Jerry was stationed at Hunter Army Air Field in Savannah when he learned of Larry’s death.
“Danny called and told me he got killed,” he said. “It was a sad situation. It was one of the worst times for our country I’ve ever seen; that (war) never should have happened.”
Bea said, “I have never in my lifetime seen so many people come to his funeral, and so many flowers. I recall how much food was brought into my parents’ home. He was such a kind, likable young man. He was the baby of the family, so we thought he was the greatest thing put on this earth. Larry never got the chance to use his education.”
‘Forgetting the whole thing’
Elijah Davis, also a combat engineer in Vietnam with a demolition MOS who did a lot of mine sweeping and clearing, was a classmate of Larry’s at GHS and was in-country when he was killed.
“There were three Davises in Vietnam at same time within 50-60 miles from one another,” he pointed out, mentioning Mike Davis also.
“If my information is correct, Larry was in a place called On Cai in the central highlands,” Elijah said. “Mike and I were at a place called Quin Yon. I was the squad leader, and Mike was in my squad. I had been in the ‘boonies’ (jungle) for a week or two, just me and four other guys, but Mike wasn’t with me on that little excursion. Mike met me as soon as we came through the gate of our compound and told me Larry had been killed.
“It was heartbreaking, and still is.”
Elijah traveled to Larry’s unit to try and find out what happened.
“You have to realize we were all young kids over there, and they didn’t want to hand out a whole lot of information,” he said. “I didn’t really find out anything about how he got killed.”
Even though Elijah called it a “joy” to finally get back to Ellijay, he made a determination.
“The mentality I had, what I decided to do, was to make a real effort into forgetting the whole thing,” he said. “I tried to just close my mind to it. Still, to this day, there’s a lot of stuff that I can’t think about unless something triggers it.”
Elijah was asked about that homecoming.
“There were no congratulations or anything like that, it was just like you hadn’t left,” he said. “The people here didn’t mistreat me in any way. But even today, I don’t go (where there’s lots of crowds).”
Elijah remembers the last time he saw Larry.
“I got a weekend pass in basic training for a high score on a PT (physical training) course, and I came home,” he said. “We were doing the usual old Dairy Queen to the skating rink (drive), back and forth through town. Everybody did that. And I ran into Larry, he was sitting at the skating rink. I pulled up beside him and talked to him. He said he was home on leave before he went over there.”
Then Elijah had a premonition.
“I told the person with me — I can’t remember who it was — he’ll never come back,” he said. “The reason I made that comment was that he was real worried. I don’t want to say he was scared, but he was real concerned. I can still see him in my mind. I can picture him sitting there.”
Elijah said Larry going over fresh out of NCO School was “not good.”
“It takes awhile for your unit to accept you,” he said. “I was a buck sergeant when I got out, but made (rank) over there. I lost some other friends over there, but I didn’t know them as well as I did Larry. He was nice guy, laid back and happy-go-lucky. There were not any bad things to remember about him. Larry and I were good friends in high school.
“It was a bad ordeal – it just was what it was.”