In his darkest hour, Gregg Davis, of Cole Camp, made his most difficult decision. He chose life.
Davis volunteered to join the service in 1968, when he was 18. He wanted to join the Navy to serve on a submarine. However, the Navy wouldn’t take him, because he had an ulcer. He ended up enlisting with the U.S. Marines.
He did his basic training at Parris Island, S.C., and advanced training at Camp Lejeune, N.C. His military occupational specialty was infantry.
He volunteered to go to Vietnam, because he was tired of doing nothing. Once he got to there, he was assigned to a Combined Action Progam unit, a special unit created by the Marines. They served with a platoon of ARVNS (the Southern Vietnamese Army.) Their mission was to visit different villages, give the locals protection and to search for land mines.
Davis’ job was to find the land mines and booby traps the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army had set and destroy them. He learned how to do this in a three-day training class led by the 11th Engineers Battalion. This was of vital importance because if his team didn’t spot them, Americans or Vietnamese people could have been hurt or killed.
Detonating the bombs was nerve wracking. He said the first time he did it, he was extremely nervous. The North Vietnamese constantly studied the Americans and watched how they deactivated the devices. They adjusted their traps accordingly.
The North Vietnamese left signs for the local people, so they wouldn’t enter places the bombs were at.
“The main thing that we looked for was anything in threes. If you were looking at a hooch and there was like three strings hanging over the door or three nails, then you are pretty much guaranteed that something in that building was booby trapped. Same thing for on the trail, if you seen three stones or three sticks set up in different ways, then you know ... there’s something there,” Davis said.
After an all-night ambush, Davis volunteered to take another man’s squad out to help them locate the mines. The North Vietnamese were looking to see who would be the detonator and would be carrying the explosives. They knew Davis was their man and wanted to take him out.
Davis was walking point, as he led the men on their morning patrol. Suddenly, the enemy stepped out, so Davis pulled to the rear and his men followed. As they got to the next treeline, the enemy was sitting there waiting.
Just as Davis got to a command detonated box mine, the enemy set it off. He was hit about 7:15 a.m. on June 28, 1970.
“I could feel myself drifting and falling back to the ground and once I hit it, then I knew that I was alive. At first, I thought something else. I thought I was going to heaven, but then I hit the ground and I could hear my men just barely yelling and saying they were coming back,” said Davis.
He lost both of his legs and his right eye and had a perforated eardrum and powder burns to his left eye. To make matters worse, his finger was on the trigger as he was tossed up on the air. He accidentally pulled it and shot himself in the arm. Despite everything, he never lost consciousness.
“But my one thing was I believe is that God just wrapped his hands around my body and my backpack, because in my backpack I had 20 pounds of C4 plastic explosives and that was what I used to detonate the other land mines and booby traps to destroy them,” said Davis.
When Davis was hit, it ripped his pack open and C4 went all over, but none of it went off. Davis was told the mine used on him contained about half a pound to three quarters of a pound of explosives. Meanwhile, he had enough C4 in his backpack to blow up 20 men.
The only other man in his unit who got injured was his radio man. He lost his left leg when he turned around to call the helicopter.
Davis laid there for about an hour waiting to be transported. While he was on the hospital ship, he almost went stir crazy, because he still didn’t have his sight. As he was coming down off the medication, he heard the voices of Vietnamese people and feared he was a prisoner of war. The nurse tried to assure him everything was OK, but she had to get some men from his unit to calm him down.
About two weeks later, he arrived at a naval hospital in Philadelphia. He stayed there for 11 months. Davis was shocked to find out he weighed only 80 pounds.
“I wasn’t a hero. I was a survivor,” said Davis.
He had a lot of time to think while he was in the hospital.
“You don’t know until you actually face it. You really find out how strong you can really be or how weak you can really be,” he said.
He started to regain sight in his left eye after about two months.
Sometimes the corpsman would play tricks on the amputees. When they wanted to get the men up, they would grab their canes and would whack it right across the mattress.
“You’re first reaction is to jump back, because you’re thinking it’s going to hit your legs and they’re not there. And bam, when that cane come down across you, you thought for sure you’d been had,” Davis said.
The muscles in their legs would contract and would pull on the end of the stump and cause tremendous pain.
“But that was all right, because we got them back afterward,” he said with a smile.
SEEING THE LIGHT
Davis said he went through a five-year adjustment period. He gained inspiration from his family. His father, sister and brother all had forms of cerebral palsy. They walked with crutches and braces all of their life. His father never allowed his disabilities to get in his way.
However, sometimes that wasn’t enough. There were times Davis wanted to give up.
The night he was thinking about doing it, he had to dig down real deep. He was living in Phoenix and was practicing killing himself.
“You only got one shot. You’ve got to be good. You’ve got to make it,” he said.
He had the television on to keep him awake. He heard Paul and Jan Crouch of Trinity Broadcast say, “You need to give your life to the Lord.”
This was the turning point in Davis’ life.
“That night I just went in front of my TV and laid everything down — all my weapons. I told God ‘I’ll live for you. I’ll accept you, if you will accept me,’ ” said Davis.
People are sometimes surprised to hear that Davis wouldn’t change anything in his life. He is thankful he didn’t pull the trigger.
He went on to become a certified welder. He can drive a tractor and a van, climb up a ladder and do electrical and plumbing work. He is married and has five children and seven grandchildren with one on the way. He has learned the importance of never giving up.
“Don’t tell me I can’t do it, because I’m going to prove you wrong,” he said. “I’m on top of the world.”