A year later, Davis family still seeks answers

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

Special to The Elizabethton Star

   Time does not heal all wounds. A year ago today, Lon and Linda Davis of Watauga awoke to the beginning of a nightmare which has yet to end.
   It was a sunny, cheerful morning in December. Linda Davis stood in the dining room, ironing, and trying to shake an unreasonable fear and sense of foreboding.
   She was glued to the television as newscasters broadcast sketchy details of a misguided bomb which had struck U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Mrs. Davis prayed for the soldiers and their families.
   When Lon came home shortly after noon, she told him of her uneasiness. She then asked him how the military notified families in the event of a soldier's death. The words had barely left her mouth when there was a knock at the front door -- a knock she knew better than to answer. Lon opened the door to find two men in military uniform.
   Master Sgt. Jefferson Donald "Donnie" Davis, 39, a Green Beret and member of the 5th Specials Forces Group, was among the "friendly fire" casualties in Afghanistan.
   Davis, along with Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Petithory of Massachusetts and Staff Sgt. Brian Cody Prosser of California, had been assigned to protect Hamid Karzi, then Afghanistan's interim prime minister. The 5th Group and Karzi's men had been pinned down Dec. 4 at Showali Kowt, 10 miles from the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar. After fighting nearly 48 hours with little food and no sleep, they overtook an observation post. A Green Beret support team arrived and Davis's team received an air drop of food and letters from home. A festive mood prevailed.
   On Dec. 5, with the Taliban still close by, the Green Beret support team ordered airstrikes. An Air Force combat controller radioed coordinates for an airstrike by a Navy F/A-18, then did a second calculation for an approaching B-52 bomber. The controller, using a "plugger," or Precision Lightweight Global Positioning System Receiver, performed the calculation and recorded the position. Unfortunately, the receiver's battery died and the controller, not realizing that once the battery had been changed the device automatically reverted to coordinates for his own location, called in the B-52 strike.
   The Davis family still is awaiting official details from the U.S. Army. So far, the only information they have gleaned has been through the media and members of Donnie's unit.
   And though the family might have hoped to spend the eve of Donnie's death in quiet reflection, it was not to be. The Davis family divided their time Wednesday between the Intensive Care Unit at Sycamore Shoals Hospital where Donnie's maternal grandmother, Ruth Curd, underwent hip replacement surgery, and a local funeral home where services were being held for Chris King, the brother of an employee at The Barn Shoppe, the Davis family's business. King died Monday as the result of an automobile accident.
   Mrs. Davis, speaking to the Star from the hospital waiting room, said, "As far as finding out what really happened, we haven't. We do not know any more than what we did 11 months ago. We just know that they're still working on it.
   "But what's done is done and you just have to pick up and try to go on. Your memories are there -- good memories. Just like the King family. They lost their son. And there are other people that have lost children, be it young or be it adult. It doesn't matter. It's still the same thing for a parent. Your heart just goes out to them."
   Debbie Sams, Donnie's sister, said her brother was in the Army nearly 17 years and she thinks his family deserves an answer regarding the events surrounding his death.
   "He gave his life. Whatever mission they put him on, he went. He gave 100 percent. I think they owe his family an explanation of what happened."
   Sams said the family doesn't want to point a finger at anybody. "We just want the truth. I think it would help us in the healing process and I just feel like the government owes us that much since Donnie did dedicate his life to the Army. I think it's unfair that they have not come through with it for us.
   "We sort of know what happened, but we would just like it on paper. I feel like we're not really getting any closure and I feel like it's unfair to my parents and to his wife and children."
   It's been an emotional year for the family, Sams said, and a timely report from the Army is the final honor Donnie deserves.
   "People say, 'Well, that's how the military is.' That may be true, but I just feel like he deserves more than what has went on from the military or the government. I just hate it for mom and dad. It's really getting to them."
   Her grandmother's surgery, Sams said, though coming at a bad time, actually has helped the family. "I wouldn't want anything to happen to my grandmother, of course, but it has kept our minds occupied because we're focusing on her. Not that we're going to forget ... it's still going to be a rough day."
   Mrs. Davis said the wait has been disappointing. "You're frustrated. But I don't know how to spur anything on. ... We did get a letter that said they would tell us, eventually, what they can tell us. Now, what does that tell you? It doesn't tell me very much at all. It's just going to be: 'Well, Mr. and Mrs. Davis, the bomb fell, it was an accident, blah, blah, blah, and that's it.' That's what I feel.
   "Finally, you get tired. You're worn down, even though it still hurts just like it was yesterday. It's a dull ache, and it's something that I don't think will ever go away. I think you just learn to live with it and adjust to it," she said.
   "I don't really want to go to the cemetery [today], but I know that I'll be drawn to go down there and just tell my son, 'I'm sorry. Mama couldn't take care of you no more.' "