Thursday, January 8, 2009
Ranger Hero Killed in Northern Iraq
The following article from the Orlando Sentinel tells the moving story of one of America's young Ranger warriors:
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January 8, 2009
To His Family: “The Greatest Hero There Is”
By Darryl E. Owens
Even after Staff Sgt. Anthony Dee Davis joined the Army and became a Ranger, Forrest Buckwald still saw him as the little boy whose face was pressed against the window of his gun shop, eyeing the soda machine.
"He was a little ragamuffin with a crooked smile," said Buckwald, co-owner of Buck's Gun Rack in Daytona Beach.
Davis was thirsty. So Buckwald gave the 8-year-old a job clearing litter from the store's parking lot for 50 cents and a Coke.
Every Saturday, rain or shine, the boy came back.
Eventually, he worked his way up to a dollar and a Coke.
And over the years, Buckwald and the boy worked up a relationship strong as father and son.
Sometime next week, with a father's sorrow, Buckwald will say goodbye to the boy he remembers and the man who was killed Tuesday in a firefight in northern Iraq.
It was the sixth combat tour of his military career. He was 29.
"He was my son," said Buckwald, 57. "He didn't have my genes. He didn't have my name, but he was my son."
And in a very real sense, Davis was Daytona Beach's son, a child raised by the village.
Born in Mainz, Germany, he moved to Daytona Beach with his mother, Ellen Davis, and two siblings. Buckwald took a shine to the boy, mentoring him, paying for summer camp and braces, taking him on trips to the Amazon, assuming a foster-father role.
The mentoring continued when as a teen, Davis joined Post 415 of the Daytona Beach Fire Explorers, where he met Lori Becker.
"He showed up to a meeting and became one of our finest young men to move up the ranks," said Becker, a lieutenant in the Daytona Beach Fire Department. "He was a leader. He loved to teach the younger recruits. He was compassionate and he was ambitious."
And a good shot -- at 15, he won a national award for marksmanship at an Explorers event.
Davis attended Seabreeze High School, where he played running back and wide receiver on the football team and also ran track and played basketball.
Jude Mohammed, now a chef in North Carolina, played football with Davis at Seabreeze and described him as one of the popular guys on campus that everyone seemed to like because of his easy-going attitude and quick smile.
"The girls were crazy about him," said Mohammed, 27. He said Davis was also an encouraging team player. "If he ever saw someone struggling while running, he would help them finish through."
Kerry Kramer, assistant athletic director at Seabreeze High, was coach when Davis played football for the Sandcrabs. Davis -- who went by A.D. or Anthony -- was a good-looking kid with a lot of friends, Kramer said.
"He was an above-average player," Kramer said of Davis, one of the few students back then who was moved up to the varsity team when he was just a sophomore. "He wasn't an All-Star, but he was a hardworking kid."
After high school, Davis decided to take his work ethic to the military, enlisting in the Army in October 2000. Once he completed training as an infantryman and the Basic Airborne course, Davis was assigned to the Army Ranger program at Fort Benning, Ga.
"Police work wasn't quite challenging enough for him," said his mother, 53, of Fayetteville, N.C. "He wanted to do something for his country, and the military was the best outlet for that."
On Wednesday, while she made arrangements to collect her son's body, Ellen Davis struggled to find the words for a fitting tribute to her oldest child.
"My son made the ultimate sacrifice. To me, he was the greatest hero there is."
Davis was assigned to Company C, 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, Hunter Army Airfield, Ga., in July 2001, a month after completing the Ranger program, and served as fire-team leader and team leader.
Positives from negatives
Because most of Davis' missions were classified, he didn't talk about what he did. But Buckwald remembers the telling words about his work that Davis shared:
No news is good news.
So when two uniformed officers knocked on Buckwald's door Monday night, he knew the news wasn't good.
According to the Department of Defense, Davis was killed by heavily armed combatants in northern Iraq. Davis managed to kill his attackers during the firefight.
In his career, which included tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq, Davis earned awards: an Army Commendation Medal, two Army Achievement Medals, two Army Good Conduct Medals, National Defense Service Medal, Combat Infantry Badge, and the Ranger Tab among others.
For the community that raised him, his death is a blow. But Becker said Davis would see his death the way his mother framed things: culling good from bad.
"You have to make lemonade out of lemons -- that's what Ellen always preached," she said. "Anthony was a success story, and hopefully this will touch the community . . . because we need to have more fine young men like Anthony Davis who will grow up and want to serve their country and do fine things."
Denise-Marie Balona of the Sentinel staff contributed to this report. Darryl E. Owens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-5095.
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Our prayers go out to Staff Sergeant Davis's family, his community, his fellow Rangers and the rest of his fellow warriors in the War on Terror.
Charles M. Grist