The weight of the medal dropped into the palm of my hand, relatively light but heavy with meaning. I rubbed my fingers gently over the silky blue ribbon and around the corners of the brass star. It was a moment that felt so personal: me, this medal, and everything it represents.

Image result for sammy davis medal of honor

Sammy L. Davis is the man who wears this particular Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military honor, and he stood five feet away from me while I took my turn with it and carefully passed it on to Mr. McDonald on my left.

Today was a professional development day in our school district, so all the kids stayed home while we teachers came committed to making ourselves a little better. One thing I love about my job is continuous improvement and chances to refresh my outlook.

They call Sammy Davis the "real Forrest Gump" as he served in Vietnam and sustained similar injuries. He was delightful, hilarious, and so incredibly sweet.

Two moments that touched me greatly were, first, when my principal asked him what message he would like us to share with the 1,700+ students we serve at our school and he responded, "I want them to know that no matter what you're faced with in life, keep going. You don't lose 'til you quit trying." Second, when one of my fellow teachers asked him what motivates him to continue to serve by coming around to schools, and he said something to the effect of "because we have good kids in this country." Then he thanked us for all we're doing for them.

He told us stories that I could have soaked in for hours. Writing home to his mother about mundane things like the smell of the mud and rhinoceros beetle jousting matches to avoid telling her what was actually happening around him every day. Holding his severely wounded sergeant's hand and realizing his sergeant loved his men and that's why he was so hard on them. Visiting Vietnam last year, finally able to start healing by replacing the enemies' eyes full of hatred from his nightmares with the kind, old eyes of the men who began to understand each other's motives 50 years later.

One story particularly struck a chord for me. Literally. His mother sent him a harmonica to help him "not be so bored." After getting over the initial upset that it wasn't her famous oatmeal cookies, he learned to play "Shenandoah" in camp for his captain, John Dunlop, who always said it gave him strength and peace. Years later, Sammy rubbed his thumb along his fallen brother's name at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall at 2:00 a.m. and played him the tune one last time.

He hoped the song would bring strength to our souls and peace to our hearts today. I could already feel the tears welling up when he whipped that harmonica out of his pocket in front of us. The air stilled. As the twang of Shenandoah's notes peeled into the middle school band room, I let the tears flow freely down my face, even though I was still technically at work, co-workers surrounding me on all sides. You can't help or stop emotion like that sometimes, and I didn't want to stop it. The last note faded into silence as he lifted his right hand up in a quick, humble salute.

When I approached him later, he gripped my hand in both of his. He told me that my hands were cold which I followed up eloquently with, "I just washed them, so they're clean." Of all the conversations I could have with a Medal of Honor recipient... But he graciously laughed and I thanked him for his service and for the words he had spoken today. I told him how badly I needed to hear them. Not that I have any reason to complain after knowing what he's been through, but my job is hard, and I've been burning out more lately, wondering if I can continue. His face softened, he looked me in the eye and repeated his messages from earlier, but I could tell that he meant them just for me. "Thank you for all you're doing. You don't lose 'til you quit trying."


#SOL18 Day 5


  1. What an amazing experience and connection to our opportunity to write!

  2. You have written a very impactful post. When you wrote, "You can't help or stop emotion like that sometimes, and I didn't want to stop it," I could feel the tears emerging, unable, unwilling, and not wanting to stop them. Brene Brown writes on vulnerability and bravery. Letting your emotions show was very brave. I really would have liked that speaker.

  3. Oh Shenandoah. I love the power of music to convey the message.


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