Charles D. Davis, better known as Charlie to his family and friends, is a Vietnam Combat Veteran who recently sat down with me to talk about his time in the service. From battling severe malaria twice to being pinned under attack in a rice paddy, this man has an amazing story of survival and sacrifice. He has written a book titled, “We Were Just Kids” that chronicles his experience as a Marine during Vietnam. It is a heart-wrenching story, and I urge everyone to read it as this article will simply not do him justice. As hard as I try, words cannot begin to describe the sacrifices that our service men and women have made for us.
I asked Charlie about his early days, just after he had been drafted into the Marine Corp. He said he remembered how it felt like his whole world had been torn down, and how horrible boot camp made everyone feel. “They made us feel like we didn’t deserve to breathe.” Yet, he and the others struggled through it, then moved on to rifle training at Camp LeJeune.
On Christmas Eve, in 1967, he found out he had to report to Camp Pendleton for two weeks of intense training, after which he was sent to Da Nang, Vietnam. In Da Nang, they were loaded on to trucks, and were sent to a bridge and fire base just south of the DMZ. This was Cam Lo, a notorious scene to many violent and bloody battles during the Vietnam War.
“We ran patrols, and saw several skirmishes, and at one point we were hit with two battalions of NVA,’ says Charlie. They caught the enemy with 200 pounds of explosives in a raft on the river under the bridge. “There wasn’t but 50 marines on that base at the time,” says Charlie, but even outnumbered they held off the NVA during the battle to defend the bridge, the Battle of Cam Lo.
Charlie went on, seeing hand to hand combat and fire fights in various places, often wondering if he would see his 21st birthday. He talks about some of his worst times. Remembering a time when rockets started down onto their compound and he heard the screaming of a young marine who had been hit, or the time he was pinned down, unable to escape, in a rice paddy while seeing others around him being hit. He talked about how brave and dedicated everyone around him had remained, even as young as they were.
Upon coming home, he had a fever and a terrible flu, but refused to stop at the VA to see a doctor, as nothing was going to stop him from coming home. His family and friends were so happy to have him home, and he managed to avoid the negative responses so many others had seen when rerturning to the U.S. Of course, Charlie received many medals and citations for his service for Combat and Good Conduct in Vietnam. He continues to work hard to help other veterans by volunteering with the local DAV LaBelle Chapter 144, as the Junior Commander. He spoke to the Mayor and City Commissioners during last month’s City Meeting, saying, “Over the years many veterans from this area have served their country, many suffered wounds and death. There was one veteran in particular who gave his life for his country and his fellow soldiers. While serving as a machine gunner with Company C, Sp4c. Nicholas T. Cutinha accompanied his unit on a combat mission near Gia Dinh, South Vietnam. Suddenly his company came under small arms, automatic weapons, mortar and rocket propelled grenade fire, from a battalion size enemy unit. On that day, Nicholas fought bravely, protecting his wounded comrades while they were being treated and evacuated. Nicholas lost his life that day serving his fellow man and his country. Nicholas was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, which is in the custody of the American Legion Post 130, here in LaBelle.”
Charlie is working to erect a memorial in Cutinha’s honor.
When asked what advice he would give to any veterans who are out there feeling helpless or alone, he says, “Don’t give up! Keep pushing through it!” He wants all veterans to know that there are people at the VFW, American Legion, and DAV who want to help, all you have to do is ask. He also recommended they reach out to friends, family, or other veterans for help.
Again, words cannot do this Marine’s story justice, please read his book. It’s available at the Barron Park House Gallery’s Gift Shop, as well as directly from the veteran himself. Feel free to contact me or the DAV if you’re interested.
Thank you, Charles D. Davis, and all veterans, for the sacrifices you have made for our country.