January 21, 2014
By Michael H. O’Donnel: The Idaho State Journal. Posted: Sunday, November 10, 2013 1:45 am.
POCATELLO — A tribute to a Korean War veteran and grandfather read by fourth-grade student Elizabeth Jolley and a tearful finish by retired Air Force Master Sgt. Robert Davis, the keynote speaker, held the crowd spellbound at Friday’s third annual Farm Bureau Salute to Idaho Veterans event.
Essay winner Jolley from Victor stood in front of a crowd of more than 300 people and read the following statements about the Pledge of Allegiance and her grandfather, Newell Kimball.
“I think the reason why we have a pledge is to represent that this is a free country, and no one can make us leave,” she wrote. “Even if we fight sometimes as a country, we will never break apart.”
“I am his granddaughter and I have a sister and a brother and mom and dad. My grandfather will always protect us because he loves us and knows that we love him.”
A nervous Jolley dashed off the stage before she could accept the first-place essay certificate from Farm Bureau Federation President Frank Priestley.
The fact Master Sgt. Davis could even stand before the crowd to deliver his speech was awe inspiring. An improvised explosive device in Iraq completely destroyed his command vehicle and left him without feeling in his arms and legs. Davis, a Utah resident, is an incomplete quadriplegic.
After the explosion, Davis spent nearly four years in a hospital and lost three years of his memory. With no feeling in his arms or legs, intense therapy was needed to help him relearn the gross motor skills needed to walk or use his hands.
“I wanted to learn to dance at my daughter’s wedding,” Davis told the crowd as he stood in front of screen with a slideshow of his military comrades and scenes from Iraq. The crowd gasped when the photo of his destroyed vehicle popped up on the screen. “They pried me out of that,” Davis said.
Davis had survived many close calls in Iraq, where he served as a chief finance officer responsible for transporting millions of dollars used to bribe cooperation from Iraqis or help rebuild infrastructure. That made Davis a target and he was involved in 18 IED attacks. He also fell two stories out of a helicopter with $9 million strapped to his legs when an explosion rocked the aircraft.
“I proved not all Air Force guys can fly,” Davis said.
During one of his earlier firefight experiences, Davis lost his body guard to enemy fire, and he said it changed him.
“It was one of the hardest days I’ve ever gone through,” Davis said. “From that time on, I was a changed person.”
During a subsequent shootout with Iraqi militants, Davis managed to get behind the attacking enemy combatants and kill them all. For that he received the Bronze Star.
“It was time to send them to their 72 virgins,” Davis said. The line brought applause from the audience and some “oorahs” from the Marines.
But the strongest moments of Davis’ speech came when he gave credit to his wife and family for sticking through thick and thin after his injuries. Fighting tears, Davis said, “I really want to pay tribute to our wives and our spouses. They hold the front and maintain our homes.”
Davis looked directly at his wife, Patricia Ann, and finished his speech. “She had to take care of me and make me walk,” Davis said.
After a standing ovation from a crowd interspersed with veterans of all ages, Patricia Davis was presented with a special award for “staying Air Force strong.”
The flag ceremony included a changing of the flag ceremony in front of the Farm Bureau building, an invocation by the Rev. Jim Jones and the singing of the national anthem by Dr. Robert Lee.
Pocatello school student Sarah Hibbert also read her first place essay entry on “What my family’s member’s military service means to me.”
“I am proud to say that because of my father’s service in Iraq and Kuwait, my uncle’s service in Africa, Korea, Thailand, Kuwait and the Philippines and my cousin’s service in Afghanistan, and the values of honor, hope and responsibility that they impart to me, I know that America is a place of liberty,” Hibbert, a high school senior, wrote. “And America is my country.”