The Real Forrest Gump’s Military Ribbons

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With a name like Sammy Davis, odds are you’re often mistaken for someone else  i.e. one of the Rat Pack. However, if one of your military ribbons happens to be the Medal of Honor, it should go that you’re recognized for you.

Sammy L. Davis or “The Real Forrest Gump,” knows this all too well.

Sammy L. Davis during the Vietnam War.
© 2003 by Nick Del Calzo

In 1965, Davis joined the Army out of high school. Like his father before him, he requested artillery training. Davis was assigned to the 4th Artillery, and not long thereafter, he volunteered for combat, Vietnam.

On the morning of November 18th, 1967, Davis and his unit, consisting of eleven guns and forty-two men, were ordered to Cai Lay, to provide forward fire-support for U.S. Soldiers in the area.

Sometime that evening, a shower of mortars began to fall on Davis’s battery. As the Americans took cover, fifteen hundred Vietcong troops burst from the jungle like a pent-up flood.

Immediately, Davis manned a machinegun, unleashing a spray of cover-fire for his crew. Sending sheets of lead into the dark, Davis could barely see what was out there. Without warning, a violent blast knocked him to his knees. An enemy recoilless rifle round had scored a direct hit on his howitzer.

The battle was raging. Men were dead or dying all around, and the enemy was getting closer. Believing it was only a matter of time before they were overrun, Davis loaded a shell into the smoldering howitzer, aimed the weapon directly at the advancing Vietcong, and let loose.

The 105 mm artillery piece was heavily damaged, but still operational. It’s rounds launched eighteen-thousand beehive darts per shell out there at the enemy horde, which was racing at Davis five-deep.

Again Davis was thrown when a mortar exploded nearby. Dazed, he quickly recovered and rammed in another round. He fired again and again, the shells exploding into oblivion through the seemingly unstoppable enemy. After what felt like an eternity, Davis discovered he had spent all his ammunition…the only remaining rounds were a white phosphorus shell and a “propaganda shell” filled with leaflets.

Davis fired them both anyway.

Unsure of his next move, cries of help from across the river caught his ear. The hollers and shouts were in English, so he knew they were good guys. Davis took a quick inventory, scooped an air mattress under his arm (he did not know how to swim) and ran to the river. Without a moment to lose and with the seething crowd of hostiles at his tail, Davis promptly leaped into the water and began paddling across.

On the opposite bank were several wounded GIs. Davis administered morphine and provided covering fire with an M16. He then helped pull these men back across the river to the fire-base, where he joined another howitzer crew and resumed fighting.

The battle raged all night long, finally tapering off near dawn. As the sun rose the next morning, Davis was seriously wounded in the back and buttocks by friendly fire, knocking him out of the fight for good.

After a stint in a field hospital, Davis was eventually sent back to the States.

Exactly one year after his ordeal at Cai Lay, he was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Lyndon Johnson.

LBJ awarding Sammy Davis the Medal of Honor

So why is he called, “the real Forrest Gump”?  Let’s address.

The footage from his November 19th, 1968 Medal of Honor ceremony is actually much of the same used in the film, Forrest Gump. President Johnson placing the medal around Tom Hanks’ neck, is actually LBJ placing the medal around Davis’ neck! Apparently, Gump’s fictional Medal of Honor citation was also loosely based on Davis’ actual citation.

Pretty cool story, wouldn’t you say? Check out Sammy Davis’ military ribbons today, at!

And for those of you who are curious, here are Forrest Gump’s military awards from the actual film:

Forrest Gump's Military AwardsThey’re practically identical to Davis’ ribbon rack, save a missing Silver Star.

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