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Pfc. Steven Davis and his mother Tess, a contract paramedic, in Baghdad. Davis was killed in action in Iraq on the Fourth of July.
Pfc. Steven Davis and his mother Tess, a contract paramedic, in Baghdad. Davis was killed in action in Iraq on the Fourth of July. (Courtesy of Tess Davis)
Pfc. Steven Davis and his mother Tess, a contract paramedic, in Baghdad. Davis was killed in action in Iraq on the Fourth of July.
Pfc. Steven Davis and his mother Tess, a contract paramedic, in Baghdad. Davis was killed in action in Iraq on the Fourth of July. (Courtesy of Tess Davis)
Pfc. Steven Davis and his daughter Elizabeth during Davis's R&R.
Pfc. Steven Davis and his daughter Elizabeth during Davis's R&R. (Courtesy of Tess Davis)

He was 23 but brought his skateboard to Baghdad. He was a combat arms soldier but had pizza with his mother once a week in the Green Zone PX.

He was the older brother of another soldier fighting in Iraq, a husband and father of a toddler, the grandson of veterans, the son of a Green Beret.

But none of that offered protection. Pfc. Steven Davis was killed in action in Iraq on the Fourth of July.

Davis, who was awarded a Purple Heart and the Bronze Star Medal, came from a family of soldiers. They’d seen friends die in the line of duty and they knew it could happen to him. But none of that provided much comfort.

“I’m having a real hard time with this, actually,” said Buck Davis, Steven’s father and a retired Green Beret and warrant officer now working as a civilian at Fort Bragg, N.C.

“I feel it. I think about it. I think about what I would have done. Constantly.”

For the Davis family, the military is a tradition, with both grandfathers, the father and on down to brothers Steven and Christopher, all having served. Yet, Buck, 46, who fought in Desert Storm and other places he doesn’t discuss, didn’t really want it to be that way.

“I tried to discourage them both. I’d just tell them they were doing fine, they were on the right track, that there are a lot easier ways to make a living than the way I did it.”

But both were unsure of their futures after high school. Steven attended community college, flipped burgers and “felt he wasn’t going anywhere,” his father said. So he decided to enlist shortly after his brother, then 19, had done so.

“As a dad I was proud,” Buck said. “But as a parent I was worried. I knew they were in harm’s way every day. I’ve had a lot of friends who’ve been hurt and killed over the years.

“You think you know how you’re going to react, but you don’t. It still does not seem real. I don’t have a lot I can see or touch ... I don’t even know how to describe it.”

The sole casualtySteven, on the last day of his life, was the gunner on the last vehicle in a four-vehicle convoy, the only one killed in a grenade attack, part of an ambush. No one else was even wounded.

His comrades in the 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division brought his body to his mother, Tess, who had taken a contract paramedic job in Iraq’s Green Zone months before. They told her he had died instantly.

“I was able to see the body,” she said. “I was able to spend some time with him. I think that helped me. I feel like I was lucky. It’s not luck. But I didn’t have to wonder what happened to my son. I know what happened to my son.”

Tess, 44, went to Iraq after years of staying home in North Carolina with the boys. Buck was often gone.

“She kind of sat and watched me do a lot of missions. She wanted to do things but she was a mother and a parent and kind of put that on hold,” Buck said. “She supported me through a lot of crazy stuff. I’m the longest-married Special Forces guy in the world.”

Even in Iraq, Tess remained very much the parent. Christopher was stationed too far from Baghdad to see her but they talked on the phone and e-mailed. Steven called before and after every mission, and, for four months, was just 10 minutes away from the Green Zone, so he and his unit came weekly to eat lunch with her.

“His whole platoon — I was like everybody’s mom,” Tess said. “We got to spend Christmas together and New Year’s together. So, again, I call myself lucky.”

After the lossChristopher was just about to go out on patrol when the news came about his brother. His commander sent him to Baghdad International Airport, where he linked up with his mother and grandfather, Rick Lara, who was working in Iraq as a mechanic. They all escorted Steven’s body home.

“I take some comfort in that,” Buck said.

Steven was buried at Arlington National Cemetery on July 18. Five days later, his mother was back in the Green Zone.

“Steven was very proud of what I was doing over here,” Tess said. “I thought being over here would help me heal, helping other soldiers.

“The first couple of days were tough. Every time I drove past the PX, I would start crying,” she said. “Steven always said, ‘Mom, if anything happens to me, don’t cry.’ I do get teary. I do cry sometimes,” she said.

“But I want to remember him as the bright, vibrant kid he was. For the most part, I think of him as someone watching over me. To tell the truth, I don’t see myself leaving this place anytime soon.”

Christopher, at his father’s request, did not return to Iraq. He was sent back to Fort Drum, N.Y., from where he had deployed on his birthday, Aug. 13, 2006.

“I think he’s done his time,” said Buck, who’s hoping to get Christopher a compassionate reassignment to Fort Bragg.

Steven’s grandfather declined to return.

Despite their loss, Buck said: “We don’t blame the military for anything. I blame the belligerents in Iraq, the Islamic terrorists.”

Buck’s motto, displayed on his e-mail is: “Freedom isn’t free; but don’t worry the United States Army Special Forces is picking up the tab.”

He has had questions about how the U.S. is prosecuting its fights in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I think the global war on terrorism is very important to world security,” he said. “But as far as the way we’re executing it — just having kids ride around in Humvees until they get shot or blown up — it’s not the way I’d go about it.”

Still, as the only man — or parent — in the family who hasn’t been to Iraq this time, Buck wants to go there now.

“I’m not getting a lot of support for that. My unit’s not too crazy about sending civilians downrange. But I don’t know — I feel like I haven’t done everything I can in the GWOT,” he said.

Migrated
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Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
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