RISING SUN, Ind. - Under misty skies Friday, former Army Sgt. Sammy Lee Davis, 62, one of 105 living Medal of Honor recipients, stood under a 30-foot Veterans Tribute Bell Tower overlooking the Ohio River.
He was part of a ceremony to install a bell tower in Rising Sun honoring veterans, the first of its kind in the U.S.
“This is refreshing and it renews the soul,” the Vietnam veteran said.
The bell will ring today after a morning “bell breakout,” grinding and polishing.
Davis came from Mooresville, Ind., to be part of the ceremony, which included a parade of more than 900 students from Rising Sun schools and area veterans who loaded 500 pounds of bronze ingots into a mobile bell-casting furnace. In the afternoon the bell was poured and cast.
The talk of this river town of 2,470 Friday was honoring veterans and making history as the first town to get a Veterans Tribute Bell Tower.
“I feel proud that we are the first and feel proud that we have something to honor veterans,” Mayor William Marksberry said. “This helps remind us of the liberties we have.”
Davis spoke for about two hours to the students, telling them about his service as an artillery gunner at a remote fire support base west of Cai Lay, Vietnam. One of those experiences was recounted in the movie, “Forrest Gump.”
Davis suffered severe injuries at Cai Lay during an enemy mortar attack.
Davis disregarded his extensive injuries - and his inability to swim - picked up an air mattress and struck out across a deep river to rescue injured comrades.
“The Forrest Gump movie is not about me, but is about me,” Davis joked Friday. “There were parts of it I didn’t like, but I think the students gave me a new insight. When I asked them what they thought of the movie, they said: ‘It taught us that you don’t lose when you keep trying,’ We were able to see that in the movie.”
Davis explained that the students were referring to when Gump showed great courage under fire as he continued to rescue soldiers while he was hurt. “The emphasis was on keep trying until you fail,” Davis said.
The tower is a project of Rising Sun, the Veterans Coalition, the Commission on the Future for America’s Veterans, the Rising Sun Regional Foundation Inc. and the Verdin Co. of Cincinnati.
They are partnering to raise funds for the commission’s plan that includes a long-term initiative for the health and well-being of veterans, said Edward Sullivan, executive director of the Rising Sun Regional Foundation.
The foundation and the city have raised $250,000 for the project. About $25,000 will go to the commission, a nonprofit organization developing a long-term strategy for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
James Verdin, president of the Verdin Co., said plans are to build 100 Veterans Tribute Bell Towers across the country in the next 18 months and raise $2 million for the commission.
“We wanted to start close to Cincinnati. If a small town like Rising Sun can do this, any town can do it,” Verdin said. “Our point is to go into cities and set up these towers as a way of saying thank you to our veterans.”