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Hometown embraces family of fallen Baptist soldier

WATAUGA, Tenn. (BP)–A dreary rain fell as members of Fort Campbell’s 5th Special Forces escorted the body of Master Sgt. Jefferson Donald Davis to his final resting place at Happy Valley Memorial Park following funeral services Dec. 17 in this small east Tennessee mountain community.

Davis, 39, who died Dec. 5 near Kandahar, Afghanistan, was buried with full military honors as hundreds of townspeople gathered to pay their respects to the Davis family.

Davis was one of three U.S. special forces soldiers and five Afghan opposition fighters who were killed when a 2,000-pound satellite-guided bomb from a U.S. B-52 missed its intended target north of Kandahar.

The dead Americans were all senior enlisted men with the 3rd Battalion, 5th Special Forces Group, “Green Berets,” based at Fort Campbell, Ky. The other two fallen soldiers were identified as Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Henry Petithory, 32, and Staff Sgt. Brian Cody Prosser, 28.

Christian recording artist and Southern Baptist Rebecca St. James sang at Prosser’s funeral in California at the request of his family.

Davis, who also served in Desert Storm, was a native of Carter County, Tenn. where he was a member of Fairview Baptist Church.

He was a 1981 graduate of Elizabethton High School, where he played on the football and basketball teams. He also attended Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk, N.C., where he played on the football team.

During visitation Dec. 17 at the high school, friends, family, city and county officials and members of the community stood in line an hour or more to express their sympathies to the family. Tears flowed. Hugs followed.

A member of the Special Forces stood guard over the body, eyes never wavering from the flag-draped coffin surrounded by red, white and blue flower arrangements. Routinely the guard snapped to attention, rotated out, and was replaced by a fellow soldier.

A proclamation signed by Tennessee legislative leaders and photographs of Davis — one accented by a burning candle — were displayed near the body. Davis’s highly decorated uniform, displayed on a mannequin, stood as a silent reminder of one man who gave his all for his country. A framed tribute to Davis written by his daughter, Cristina, 14, carried a photo of Davis on his police-issue Harley-Davidson.

His wife, Mi Kyong, parents Lon and Linda Davis, grandmother Ruth Curd, brother Danny, sister Debbie and brother-in-law Tim Sams stood for hours along with other family members as guest after guest filed past.

The Davis’s son, Jesse, 9, stood like a model young soldier beside his family, shaking hands. Pride in his father shone on his face.

Capt. Jason Amerine, who was with Davis when a bomb from an Air Force B-52 struck near their position, also came to comfort the family.

“I do not want my men remembered as a detachment that was taken out by an errant bomb,” Amerine told the Associated Press while at a U.S. military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, following the attack. “They cannot be remembered that way. They are the best that America has to offer.”

Fire Chief Dale Smalling of Watauga (Tenn.) Volunteer Fire Department was visibly moved as he left the building. “They’re close friends — fine people, and I’m very sorry for them,” he said.

Earlier in the afternoon, Carter County Sheriff John Henson greeted mourners upon their arrival. Surveying the crowd, Henson said, “Carter County is just one big family. This here shows you that Carter County does stick with their own.”

Townspeople were doing their part to take care of Davis’ widow and her children. Flags were lowered to half-staff.

“Throughout history the sons and daughters of Carter County have always been one of the first to volunteer in service to their nation and this is another example of that distinguished service,” said Elizabethton City Manager Charles Stahl. Davis’ service to his country “will never be forgotten.”

James Parrish, chief deputy for Carter County Sheriff’s Department, said, “The type of people that come out of this community, I think, go above and beyond.”

Catherine Parlier and members of Watauga Volunteer Fire Department proceeded to the Davis home in fire trucks and added their flags to the red, white and blue yard. One of the neighborhood children, dressed in a camouflage shirt, placed two flags he had made himself.

At Fairview Baptist Church, which Davis attended, visitors signed a banner to be presented to the family at a later date.

“We love his family. It shocked everybody,” Parlier said. “You never dream of it hitting this close to home.”

“Everybody out here is proud of him,” a local deputy said, “proud of the way he served his country and thankful that there are people like that. But you hate it for the family, you know? God bless them.”

J.R. Campbell, principal and third grade teacher at Little Milligan Elementary in Butler, Tenn., said, “You can read in the third grade book geography about Afghanistan; we watch it on TV; and we can take a mouse now in the modern time and research the world on a computer. But when something like this hits, it makes you realize how small the world is.

“I’ve always been glad to be an American and I was very proud to be a Tennessean; but this makes me very proud to be a Carter Countian.”
This story includes information from the Elizabethton Star. (BP) photos, courtesy of the Elizabethton Star, are posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: WIFE MOURNS HER HUSBAND, A SON REMEMBERS HIS FATHER and A TOWN MOURNS.

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  • Todd Starnes