NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – More than a half century since a Tennessee man made the ultimate sacrifice for his country, his legend lives on in his hometown.
Fifty-six years ago, James Thomas Davis, better known as Tom, became part of history for his valor in a faraway land.
“Tom was an adventurous boy,” said Livingston Vice Mayor Bill Winningham.
Winningham, who has been vice mayor for 40 years said he was a classmate and friend of Davis and he remembers him fondly.
“He lived facing the mountain and Tom spent as much time on that mountain as he did at home,” he explained. “He was a great man.”
Growing up, Davis was a typical kid, playing sports and working for gas money at his father’s drug store.
“It was Davis and Norris Drug Store and he worked in there. He was a soda jerk when he was in high school,” Winnigham remembered.
After high school, Davis’ adventurous nature led him to volunteer for the Army’s 3rd Radio Research Unit and a trip to Asia.
At the time in 1961, the U.S. wasn’t entangled in the Vietnam War yet and Davis wore civilian clothes, not a uniform.
He spent his time monitoring radio broadcasts using sophisticated equipment to pinpoint the location of the enemy.
On December 22, 1961, near Saigon, Davis was riding in the front seat of a truck carrying 10 South Vietnamese soldiers.
It was then a land mine exploded, tearing through the tailgate. Davis survived the blast and pulled the driver to the safety of a water filled culvert.
He then quickly ran up the road, and continued to fire to protect himself and his fellow soldiers when he was felled by a Vietcong bullet near the truck.
President Lyndon B. Johnson later proclaimed Davis as the first American to fall in defense of our freedom in Vietnam.
Livingston Mayor Curtis Hayes still speaks proudly of Davis to this day, “It is a great story. He was a good local boy, an American hero in my eyes.”
Back in Livingston on the day of his death, the Davis family was celebrating the 15th birthday of one of their children.
His family was expecting him any day and was shocked when a cab arrived that December night to inform them Davis would not be coming home.
“We won’t ever forget Tom Davis. In a way, he has put Livingston on the map,” Mayor Hayes said. “We are very proud of what he has done for our country.”
Despite being born after Davis died, Mayor Hayes said he learned about the hero while on Livingston Academy’s football field.
“The sacrifice that Tom Davis made – that got his name on the stadium. The ultimate sacrifice is the best you could ever do for your country,” he said.
Davis is memorialized at Good Hope Cemetery by a tombstone, American flag and plaque.
He’s also honored in the town’s square and visitors still come by to pay their respects and students learn the history about his bravery.