Olympic torch carrying flame for Davis presented to family

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

   Whenever a military job has to be done overnight, Special Forces are called in. As operations sergeant for the "Texas 12," Master Sgt. Jefferson Donald Davis was no stranger at making housecalls.
   Davis -- known as "Donnie" to family and friends in East Tennessee, "J.D." to his military family -- and his men undertook a mission in Afghanistan in November, known as the battle of Tarin Kot.
   Outnumbered 50 to 1, Davis's men together with anti-Taliban forces commanded by Hamid Karzai, took out a heavily armed Taliban convoy on its way to retake the town. Scattering out over a ridge overlooking the convoy traveling through the valley below, Davis and his men kept watch while Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Petithory of Massachusetts determined coordinates and called in an air strike. Both Davis and Petithory were awarded the Silver Star for valor. Another attack Dec. 3 in a small town north of Kandahar saw the Texas 12 and Karzi's forces again victorious against the Taliban.
   On Dec. 5, while the Texas 12 were fighting alongside another Green Beret unit, a B-52 locked onto the Americans' location, rather than that of the Taliban, and dropped a 2,000 pound bomb, killing Davis, Petithory and Staff Sgt. Brian Cody Prosser. The Texas 12's commander, Capt. James Amerine, and 19 U.S. soldiers were injured.
   In the United States, Americans were gearing for the 2001 Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah. The flame used to start the fire in the opening ceremony was making its way from Greece toward Salt Lake, carried by runners from state to state.
   The 5th Special Forces -- Davis and Petithory's group -- were contacted by the Olympic Committee and asked whether, because of recent events, they would like to participate and carry torches in memory of their fallen comrades, according to Chief Warrant Officer 2 Robert Way, a member of 5th Special Forces stationed in Clarksville. Only two slots were open, however, after talks with the committee, it was agreed that the 5th group would carry three torches.
   "The Special Forces has several different detachments of 12-man teams. The 12-man team that Donnie belonged to was my team," Way said. He carried torch 148 through Nashville in honor of Davis, while Staff Sgt. Wes McGirr, who was shot in the shoulder and medevaced out of Afghanistan 12 to 15 hours before the bomb was dropped on his team, carried a torch in memory of Petithory.
   "They gave us a designated spot in Nashville to meet and they gave us the Olympic sweat outfits, and issued the torches to participants while we were on the Olympic shuttle," Way said. Runners dressed and were briefed on proper behavior before being taken to their locations.
   "We were to light our torch from their torch and continue on," Way said. He carried the flame about a quarter mile through Nashville on torch 148.
   "Each runner that participates in the torch relay, they are issued their own torch," Way said, "and like the runner I was waiting for, the runner came up, his torch was lit, and he lights my torch with the flame from his and then I go to the next torch and light it.
   "The flame starts in Greece and is carried in cauldrons to the hosting city and they light the cauldron with it and it starts the games. That's why I thought it would be absolutely perfect for J.D.," Way said.
   "I tried to do everything I could to help that family because we all loved J.D. here. He was absolutely looked at and felt like he was a brother. I was wanting to do something from us, the small team, to give in honor, and to have an actual Olympic torch ..."
   Way said First Command Financial Planning purchased the torch for the 5th group. "If you were selected to carry a torch, you were allowed -- if you wanted -- to keep the torch that you carried, but it was $338.
   "I made a deal with the Olympic Committee and I kept mine and Wes McGirr's and I asked the people that I invest through for this presentation. Then I went to the woodwork shop here on Fort Campbell and I told them what I was doing and why I was doing it. So they did all the work and they made the case for the torch and the only thing they charged me was for the wood. They donated all the work and everything for the cause," Way said.
   "I purchased 28 feet of oak and they made two cases. There's an identical case and torch with a different serial number on it, I think No. 152," which will be presented to Petithory's family by the company commander.
   Donnie's parents, Lon and Linda Davis of Watauga, were given the torch that carried the flame for Donnie about three weeks ago by Donnie's best friend in the 5th group, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Larry Corrigan.
   "Larry wasn't able to be here for any of the ceremonies, the funeral or anything. He was still over in Afghanistan," Way said. "I knew Larry was going to go pay his respects and see Donnie's family, so I asked Larry to present it to his family on behalf of myself and the team. I was just hoping they would understand and appreciate it. ... It's one of a kind."
   Inscribed on the torch are the words, "Light the flame within."
   On Dec. 15, when the torch passed through Nashville, the Davis family was busy making funeral preparations. Though they had heard something about his group carrying a torch in memory of Donnie, it really didn't register.
   "We didn't know they were doing it for us. It was a complete surprise when Larry brought it in," Lon Davis said.
   Corrigan, his wife and twins arrived at the Davis family home in Watauga about three weekends ago.
   "We ran outside to greet them and welcome them. After we had our greetings over with ... Larry said, 'I've got something for you, and he goes back to his car and brings back this box,' " Linda Davis said. "We had no idea. He just said they wanted us to have this. We were speechless. I couldn't believe it. For anybody to do that ... you know?"
   Lon said, "I still don't know exactly how it all came about, but I thought, 'If that's his, that's great that he would give it up.' "
   The Davises have allowed Randy Lingerfelt, veterans service officer of Carter County, to show the torch to a group of veterans. "We're just going to place it around different places that might want to show it. ... We're not going to be selfish," Lon said.
   "It's like an extended part of Donnie through his military brothers. It keeps us in tune with him, with his memory," Linda said. "I know when Larry brought it in and I first saw it, I looked at it and -- of course, I get emotional -- my eyes clouded up till I couldn't even read it," she said.
   After she calmed down, "I read the little plaques on there, and I was so proud. I knew they must have loved him to do this."
   A special memorial service will be held for Donnie at 10 a.m. May 2 at Lees-McCrae College in North Carolina. Davis attended Lees-McCrae before transferring to East Tennessee State University. On Friday, a special television program about Afghanistan and the Special Forces will be shown at 9 p.m. on The Learning Channel.