Our local hero laid to rest

By Kathy Helms-Hughes


   Master Sgt. Jefferson Donald Davis was many things to many people. Some never knew him. Still, at his death they sent letters from across America to console his wife and family.
   Tuesday, the last of three soldiers killed Dec. 5 in Afghanistan by a bomb from a U.S. B-52, was laid to rest. Special Forces soldiers from Ft. Campbell, Ky., and Ft. Bragg, N.C., even a general, came to pay their respects. The Korean church community of Clarksville traveled via charter bus to support Davis's wife, Mi Kyong, daughter Cristina, 14, and son, Jesse, 9.
   State Sen. Rusty Crowe and Rep. Ralph Cole put politicking on hold to attend the funeral at Elizabethton High School and graveside ceremony at Happy Valley Memorial Park. Gov. Don Sundquist, Sen. Bill Frist and Sen. Fred Thompson, who were about 45 minutes away Monday attending a dedication ceremony for the new James H. Quillen United States Courthouse in Greeneville, did not attend. The only mention of President George W. Bush was when the Watauga native was posthumously awarded the Silver Star, the Purple Heart, and the Combat Infantryman Badge.
   Davis was known by friends and family as "Donnie," "Jeff," and "J.D."
   David Beireis, who delivered the eulogy, first met "J.D." in North Carolina in 1988. Beireis recalled a close friend once telling him that in the 11 years that he had known J.D., "they had never had an angry word between them. You cannot say that about many other individuals," he said.
   Davis also was renown for his common-sense approach to life.
   "I was often amazed at the way he handled both personal and professional relationships -- professional in the way that when J.D. would get his point across, there was no doubt as to what he considered the right way," Beireis said.
   The Rev. Dae Hyuk Kang, guest speaker, delivered a message of hope in both English and Korean from Psalms 121:
   "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills from whence commeth my help. My help commeth from the Lord which made heaven and earth. ... The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil. He shall preserve thy soul. The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth and even forevermore."
   Master Sgt. Monty Flanigan told the crowd which nearly half-filled a gymnasium designed to hold more than 2,000: "Death ... does have meaning. I would like for us to look at what the death of J.D. means to America. ... Daniel Webster once said, 'God grants liberty only to those who love it and are always ready to guard and defend it.' This was the attitude of J.D."
   Flanigan explained that the "folding of the flag ceremony" which followed at graveside "represents the same religious principles for which our country was originally founded:
   "This ceremony is a tribute to our nation's honored dead," he said. During the ceremony the colors are lowered and folded into a triangle fold and kept under watch throughout the night. The next morning when the flag is brought and run aloft symbolizes belief in the Resurrection, he said. In this way, "America remembers her fallen heroes and pays tribute to those that gave the ultimate sacrifice for their nation."
   Master Sgt. Flanigan held up a packet of envelopes containing letters from the American people which were erroneously sent to Jefferson Davis, 81, of Clarksville, who forwarded them to the military.
   "All throughout America, letters were written to this family. They didn't know the Jefferson Davis who we remember here today. But somehow the American people ... are starting to reach out to let you know how America feels and how grateful we are."
   Flanigan asked mourners to look at death from Davis's perspective.
   "Death to J.D. means that his life's work is done. ... He finished his course, he fought the good fight, and he kept the faith. And that to J.D. means that his reward is ready. ... J.D. has led this nation through combat so that we might enjoy the same freedoms that we still (enjoy) and have enjoyed over the last 200 years," he said.
   Davis's nephew, Wesley Baughman, picked up a guitar and sat down at the microphone to dedicate a song.
   "My uncle never got to see me play guitar. So this will be his first time," he said. The song poignantly asked, "Will I see you again?"
   The Harley-riding veterans group, Rolling Thunder -- one sporting a black Vietnam-era POW/MIA shirt -- joined the procession to the cemetery, accompanied by law enforcement personnel from several Tri-Cities jurisdictions, Carter County Rescue Squad, Tennessee Highway Patrol, the Tennessee Constables Association, firefighters and others. Davis was a Harley man, according to his wife and parents, Lon and Linda Davis of Watauga.
   A 21-gun salute echoed across the Sycamore Shoals area where soldiers once marched out into battle. Tears trickled down the cheeks of mourners as the sound of Taps wailed across the hillside.
   Retired Special Forces soldiers from Chapters 33 and 38 of the Special Forces Association were on hand, including Jim Hash and David Hensley of Virginia, and Robert "Bull" Durham of Trenton, Ga.
   Frank Wisniewski, president of Chapter 38, served with "Jeff" Davis for 5-1/2 years. They went through Desert Storm together.
   "When he first came to my company he was brand new. I worked with him until I retired. He was a quiet guy, no complaints," said Wisniewski, who lives five houses away from the Davis family in Clarksville. "He did what he had to do and he did it quietly."
   Wisniewski said he and Davis worked hand in hand during Desert Storm and in Somalia. "Our area was more or less watching over the Egyptians and, like they are doing now (in Afghanistan), calling in air cover."
   He praised the role of the Special Forces in Afghanistan.
   "This is really the first conflict since Vietnam that they've used the soldiers to do the job that they were trained to do. Before, you never did the job you were trained for. You always did something else: political, diplomatic, or whatever. This is the first mission that they have used Special Forces and used them wisely.
   "Every guy out here is part of the brotherhood of the Special Forces. They know that when a man gets this uniform on that he is risking his life and he could be the next one to go down," he said.
   Joseph Bossi, past president of the chapter, said, "Let's not get down the road here and everybody say, 'OK, it's over; forget about it.'
   "There was a reason why this person died. ... It impacts on you whether you realize it or not."
   When all words were spoken, Merritt H. Powell of Daytona Beach, Fla., tugged at the last dry eye in the crowd as the bagpipes he has owned for 50 years droned "The Ballad of the Green Beret" and "Amazing Grace."
   The skies which wept for days prior to Davis's burial, made way for the sun as his body was laid to rest. A chill rose in the air. The family went home to deal with the feeling of emptiness that will inevitably set in during the next few days. And members of the elite Special Forces waited for all but Tetrick's Funeral Home personnel to leave before saying good-bye to a brother in their own private way.