He paused. He thought about his family and friends back home, about how much he loved them and would miss them. But he was ready.
He looked to his unit. There was smoke and debris everywhere. The odds were against them, he thought. If he was going to go down, he’d go down trying. He took a deep breath and moved forward.
Forrest Gump is a 1986 novel by Winston Groom, that came alive on screen in 1994 as one of the world’s most favourite comedy-drama movies. It depicts the life of Forrest Gump, played by Tom Hanks.
Gump is a slow-witted, kind man from Alabama who witnesses and contributes to important military moments in 20th century America. However, there was a real story behind the life of this character.
There was a defining moment in time that catapulted this man’s life into scenes playing out on the big screen. The man is Sammy L. Davis, an american from California who enlisted in the United States Army in 1965.
Davis fought as an artilleryman during the devastating Vietnam War. The defining moment in question happened on November 18th, 1967.
It was another gruelling day in Vietnam when Davis and his 41-men unit were sent to the Cai Lay area to begin their task of setting up a forward fire support base for the infantrymen in the area.
Davis had never done this task before so he had spent days preparing. But no one could prepare him for this.
It was coming up to midnight, the air was still and the sound of men chatting in the open air, drafted through the gentle gusts of wind. He had just settled into the night when he heard a rustle. Sitting up, he focused his hearing.
What sounded like one small hustle, now sounded like a huge gust of wind was blowing up from the field in their direction. Davis sprung upright. It wasn’t a gust of wind.
Approximately 1,500 Viet Cong soldiers had launched an attack on the army men in the area. Davis’ division fell under a heavy mortar attack and machine gun fire which swarmed the area from all sides.
It was complete mayhem. Thankfully, there was a river that separated the two armies, preventing them from being immediately overrun. But the war was just beginning.
When Davis realised the enemy was closing in, he took a machine gun within his tank with the intention of providing covering fire to his unit.
They needed to get out of the open and get to safety. However, just as Davis had mustered the courage to stand up and act, a rifle round from the enemy hit the tank his crew was operating.
The hit was so powerful that it threw the whole crew off the tank and Davis fell into a fox hole. Separated from his unit, the situation didn’t look good for Davis.
He was convinced that his team would not be able to fight for long against the huge army numbers of the enemy. So he decided to do something only a desperate man would do.
Leaving the cover of his fox hole, he propelled towards the machine gun and fired at least one round from the damaged tank. Although badly hurt, he continued to fire at the advancing Viet Cong soldiers.
He was going to fire until they were detonated by the enemy. The enemy returned fire with rifle shots, aiming directly at him.
They missed. After recovering from his close call, he continued to fire. With no one around to help him, he rushed to the ground and gathered all the powder he could find.
He ran back to the tank and loaded what he could into the machine. Usually, the machine operates off 9 bags of powder, Davis loaded 21. Preparing for fire, he braced himself.
Before firing, Davis sent a thought to his family and friends back home. He was getting ready to sacrifice his life to provide his unit with a chance of survival.
The odds were against him anyways he thought. If he was going to go down, he may as well go down trying. Suddenly, he fired.
He completely devastated the enemy but the tank exploded and Davis went hurtling back.Incredibly, he survived but he woke with around 30 fragments of tank debris pierced into his back and just like the film depicted, a shrapnel in his buttocks.
Davis was disoriented and his body was in a dire condition. However, just as he was about to surrender to the pain, he noticed something alarming in the distance.
Coming back to his senses, he noticed some American G.I.s on the other side of the river.
Despite being shot in the leg, being partially deaf, having broken ribs, a fractured spine and multiple pieces of debris stuck in his back, Davis grabbed an army mattress and swam to his brothers. Suddenly, he was surrounded by enemies.
Davis sneaked his way over to his soldiers with nothing but an air mattress. Arriving at the foxhole he found three wounded soldiers.
Two ambulatory and another miraculous still living after suffering a shot to the head. Davis placed him on the mattress and they all made their way back across the river to safety.
Much of Davis’ acts of valour and altruism on this day towards his fellow Americans is depicted in the movie Forrest Gump. In fact all of the military scenes are directly inspired from Davis’ experience.
Even the Medal of Honor scene with the President is Sammy Davis’ body with Tom Hanks face CGI’d. However, it can be said that Davis is a much more eloquent speaker. What a guy!