Death brings outpouring of community pride, support

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

   We can only hope that when it's our time to go, someone remembers us kindly. If Jefferson Donald Davis lived as those who knew him remember, surely his life will find reward.
   He was an Army medic who enjoyed a good ride on a motorcycle. "He loved his Harley," his mother, Linda Davis, said Wednesday, pointing to a picture of a man with a kind face and hair beginning to turn gray.
   He liked to take his son, Jessie, fishing. He was Grandma's "boy."
   Master Sgt. Davis, a Green Beret with the 5th Special Forces Group, 101st Division, went into isolation Oct. 14 to prepare for Afghanistan. He missed celebrating his 39th birthday and Thanksgiving with his family. His wife, My Kyong of Clarksville, where the Davises reside, spent Thanksgiving in Watauga.
   Because Jessie enjoyed fishing with his father so much, "His mother (My Kyong) took him down to the (Watauga) river," where Donnie used to go, Mrs. Davis said.
   While Donnie's mother was cooking Thanksgiving dinner, My Kyong came up to her from behind, put her arms around her and said, "It's so hard."
   Donnie Davis has touched the heart of Watauga, neighboring communities, the nation. On Thursday, local citizens planted flags in the front yard of the Davis home. They could do no more.
   News reporters from across the nation converged on Watauga and anyone that knew Davis was suddenly in the limelight. Family members were hounded by those sent to "Get the story!" Law enforcement moved in.
   "It's been a melee out here all day long," said Carter County Sheriff's Department Deputy Jim Whaley, who works at the Watauga substation. "I think there are down to maybe two news crews now, but at one time there were like eight or 10 different news crews set up. If the family had come in, they would have just swamped them."
   Deputies stood guard throughout the night, watchful for anyone camping out. Sheriff John Henson dropped in. Those in close contact with the Davises were unable to reach them in Clarksville at Donnie's home. A block apparently had been put on the phone.
   Annis Clark, a friend of the family, went to The Barn Shoppe, the Davis's business, and dropped quarters into the news box to get copies for the family.
   "When she got down there alone, I think they kind of swarmed her," Whaley said. "This isn't the time to put that family through that. Everybody's feeling a lot of grief for the family. I know them, and I hate that so bad. And the bad part is there's not a thing in the world you can do for them."
   State and community leaders extended condolences. Flags were lowered to half-mast.
   "Throughout history the sons and daughters of Carter County have always been one of the first to volunteer in service to their nation and this is another example of that distinguished service," said Elizabethton City Manager Charles Stahl. Davis's service to his country "will never be forgotten."
   James Parrish, chief deputy for Carter County Sheriff's Department, said, "The type of people that come out of this community, I think, go above and beyond."
   Both Parrish and Larry Shell, assistant chief of police for Elizabethton Police Department, expressed their support. "Our heart and prayers go out to the Davis family," Shell said.
   When Carter County Commission meets Monday morning, according to County Executive Truman Clark, "we'll take time ... to recognize that loss to the family. I feel like at the proper time the commission would wish to honor him in an additional form."
   Davis's death "tells you how much your freedom should be appreciated," Clark said.
   While some area fire departments battled the never-ending forest fires that have plagued the county of late, Catherine Parlier and members of Watauga Volunteer Fire Department proceeded to the Davis home in fire trucks and added their flags to the red, white and blue yard. One of the neighborhood children, dressed in a camouflage shirt, placed two flags he had made himself. At Fairview Baptist Church, which Davis attended, visitors signed a banner to be presented to the family at a later date.
   "We love his family. It shocked everybody," Parlier said. "You never dream of it hitting this close to home."
   According to Deputy Whaley, "Everybody out here is proud of him, proud of the way he served his country and thankful that there are people like that. But you hate it for the family, you know? God bless them."
   J.R. Campbell, principal and third grade teacher at Little Milligan Elementary in Butler, said, "You can read in the third grade book geography about Afghanistan; we watch it on TV; and we can take a mouse now in the modern time and research the world on a computer. But when something like this hits, it makes you realize how small the world is.
   "I've always been glad to be an American and I was very proud to be a Tennessean; but this makes me very proud to be a Carter Countian."