(WTTV/WXIN) — Two men, two veterans bound together by valor on a battlefield in Vietnam. Their story is one of survival, and now, years later, of friendship.
One of their stories is well known.
Sergeant Sammy Davis received the Medal of Honor for his heroism in March of 1967 when his artillery unit came under attack by an estimated 1,500 North Vietnamese regulars. Despite severe wounds and still taking fire, the Hoosier native swam across a Vietnamese canal on a damaged air mattress three times to save three US servicemen.
One of the men that Sgt. Davis saved was Private Jim Deister.
“When I found Jim laying with the rest of the guys, he was dead,” said Davis.
“They put me in a body bag and tried to put me on the helicopter and found me moving,” said Deister. “That’s what I remember.”
More than 50 years later, the two veterans reunited to talk about that terrible day on a Zoom call. Deister lives in Kansas and retired as a rehabilitation counselor.
However, on that day in 1967, Deister was a demolition specialist on the wrong side of that canal with a chest wound and a severe head injury that, to this day, has left him with partial deafness and impaired speech.
“I remember a redheaded fellow looking through the bushes,” Deiser said. “I had no idea who he was.”
“I wasn’t going to leave him,” Davis said. “I wanted him to be across the canal with my guys so I did. I just did for my brothers what I knew they’d do for me.”
Amid the fog of war, Deister said he had no idea how he had survived. That is, until years later when he heard the unique details of Davis’s Medal of Honor story and realized he was one of those survivors. He arranged an emotional meeting at a veteran’s event.
“To meet Sam, to meet a Medal of Honor recipient, was amazing, but to know this fella saved my life was even more amazing,” said Deister.
“The first time that I saw you, I knew it was you, it was my Jim Deister, and the friendship all these years keeps getting better,” said Davis.
That friendship brought them back to Vietnam to that same canal where war first brought them together. By then, it already held a new meaning.
“For years, I didn’t have anything in my life to make it better, after coming into Jim’s life and his family’s life, now it’s okay, I see Jim and he’s doing really good and it helps ease my mind, it eases my heart and put strength into my soul and I continue on,” said Davis.
Both Davis and Deister share their story of friendship and heroism with veterans and civilians across the country. They say it’s their obligation as survivors.
“It’s up to us who as able to live our lives the very best that we can in order to honor them,” said Deister.