Monday, December 15, 2003

slain fil-am soldier - asian journal article

Slain Fil-Am Soldier Laid to Rest

By Momar G. Visaya

APPLE VALLEY - Lanny and Remy Davis clasped their hands and held each other during the final moments of their only son's funeral Saturday, December 13. Flanked by their daughter Lisa, the couple stared at their fallen son's silver casket as it was lowered down. It was a long moment of silence, broken only by intermittent sobs coming from family, friends and relatives who were mourning the untimely and senseless death of Richard Thomas Ong Davis.

Davis was a 25-year-old Filipino-American who served in the military and engaged in some of the worst battles in Operation Iraqi Freedom earlier this year. He fought through 25 days of continuous combat in some of the most difficult conditions imaginable.

More than a hundred relatives and friends gathered at the Sunset Hills Memorial Park to say their final farewell to the slain soldier. Sixteen soldiers from his unit, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, including his Commanding Officer, Capt. David Taylor, flew in from Georgia to pay their last respects to their comrade. They carried his flag-draped casket and fired a 21-gun salute.

"I really had a hard time accepting the news," Davis' mother Remy, a former medic at a military hospital in Washington, D.C. told the Asian Journal, while recalling those days when they first found out that Richard was missing. It was a lot harder when they were informed that police have found his decomposing body.

Spc. Richard Davis survived the war in Iraq. He did not die in combat. What he did not survive was a fellow soldier's attack on him moments after they were thrown out of a club.

Authorities say Davis was stabbed to death in Georgia by fellow soldier Alberto Martinez days after their mid-July return to the United States from Iraq. Three other soldiers - two from Texas, one from Florida - are accused of concealing Davis' death.

Investigators say the group, while celebrating their homecoming, went to a topless bar but were kicked out after Davis supposedly insulted one of the dancers. The soldiers began fighting, and Martinez allegedly pulled out a knife he used to kill Davis.

Army investigators found Davis' beaten, stabbed and charred body in a wooded area on Nov. 7.

In an earlier interview with the Associated Press, Lanny Davis, Richard's father said, "I want him remembered as a war hero, not as someone killed as part of some bar fight. He should be remembered as a hero because he earned it."

Richard did not call his parents when he made it to his home. "He wanted to surprise us,"Remy said, while telling stories on how Richard would just knock on their door and surprise everyone that he's already home.

'A Dreamer, A Creator'

News reports have said that in Missouri, he was tormented and taunted in high school because of his mixed-race appearance - his father is white, his mother Filipino. Richard Davis by most accounts found acceptance in the military.

He "was a dreamer, a creator," Army Sgt. Matthew Delisle said in eulogizing the man he served with in Iraq. "He was a man who saw things differently from the rest of us."

Case in point: During the U.S.-led march to Baghdad, Delisle said, Davis concocted an elaborate stove system to cook everything from foods to coffee. He gave away his last cigarette to a fellow soldier he thought would enjoy it more.

He often spoke of his father, a retired military policeman. To Delisle, Richard Davis was the good son and soldier, the kind of guy "who covered you on the left and on the right." And when the bullets flew and tensions flared, Delisle said, Davis had a knack for levity.

"In times of stress, he was the one you could always count on," Delisle said on a day his dead friend was awarded a commendation medal that an Army lieutenant gently placed on the closed casket.

No Bad Blood?

The alleged soldier-on-soldier slaying has put the Army on the defensive. Davis' family accuses Fort Benning of writing him off as AWOL and failing to investigate his disappearance until the fall.

And some question the investigators' conclusion that the killing was simply the result of a brawl gone bad, wondering if traumas from the battlefield led to bloodshed at home.

''All of the evidence says there was no bad blood'' between the soldiers, said Mark Shelnutt, a defense attorney for Pfc. Douglas Woodcoff, one of the accused men. ''They've all been to Iraq, they want to have a few drinks. ... You can't help but wonder. If this had happened a week before they deployed, would the result have been the same?''

Davis returned from the Middle East on July 12 from his second deployment since May 2002. His unit - 1st Battalion, 15 Infantry Regiment of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division - had spent most of the past 14 months in the region training, fighting and waiting to go home.
Davis never called his parents to tell them he was back. He had no wife or girlfriend in Columbus. So he piled in a car with four other soldiers from his company for a night out to celebrate.

They headed to the Platinum Club, a topless bar about seven miles from Fort Benning, where mirrored walls reflect women dancing around a rickety poll wearing only G-strings, high heels and various tattoos.

The soldiers had a few drinks. They got kicked out of the bar.

''It's in the evidence that Richard Davis said an inappropriate remark to one of the employees of the club, a dancer," said Lt. Steve Cox, head of major crimes for the Columbus Police Department.

Davis's fellow soldiers later told police getting bounced from the bar made them angry. They started brawling in the parking lot. They left, but kept trading punches in the back of the car.
The soldiers drove about three miles from the club before Pfc. Alberto Martinez pulled his car over by the woods next to Cooper Creek Park.

Two of the men, Pvt. Jacob Burgoyne and Pfc. Mario Navarrete, got out and continued to fight Davis with their fists. They told police that Woodcoff, the fifth soldier, watched without joining the brawl.

Davis' Last Moments

Then Martinez pulled a knife, stabbing Davis several times, Burgoyne and Navarrete told investigators.

The four soldiers left Davis' dead body, drove to a convenience store and bought lighter fluid. They came back, doused the bloodied corpse and tried to burn it. They left the body concealed in the woods.

The account of the deadly brawl came from Burgoyne, Navarrete and Woodcoff in interviews with police following their arrest Nov. 8, the day after Davis' body was found.

Cox said police don't believe the soldiers' combat experiences were a factor in the killing. ''There are murders committed every day and most murders are committed by people who know you,'' Cox said. ''We see best friends killing each other all the time - civilians, military, all walks of life.''

Davis' father doesn't buy that argument. He's not sure why his son was slain, but insists it wasn't a simple, perhaps drunken, argument.

'You don't go out and stab a guy and set his body on fire after you beat him half to death because you got kicked out of a bar,'' Lanny Davis said. ''You don't go out and kill your buddies. There was something else that happened.''

Lanny Davis didn't find out his son had come back until a soldier from Fort Benning called him in Missouri ask if his son had come home. The father replied he thought his son was still at the Baghdad airport.

Murder Indictments Sought

Lanny Davis traveled to Fort Benning a month later to ask about his son. The Army had listed him as AWOL, absent without leave, though he'd left his toothbrush and new clothes bought at the post exchange in his barracks.

Fort Benning didn't investigate Davis' disappearance until the fall, after Lanny Davis sought help from his congressman, Rep. Kenny Hulshof of Missouri.

'The unit conducted an investigation and apparently they turned up some soldiers who implicated the four,'' said Fort Benning spokesman Rich McDowell, who said the questioning took place ''shortly before the body was found.''

Col. Steven Salazar, brigade commander for the 3rd Infantry at Fort Benning, has said Thursday the Army ''followed all procedures necessary ... and even took additional measures'' to find out what happened to Davis. After discovering his death, the Army reinstated Davis for his family to be able to receive his death benefits.

But the slain soldier's father remains angry.

''I've been screaming ever since that lieutenant colonel came and told me they found my son's skeletal remains,'' Lanny Davis said. ''We don't even have the chance to see my son's face ever again.''

Investigators still aren't sure exactly what day Davis was killed, though they know it was within three days of his return. It may have been less than 24 hours after he got back, Cox said.
Burgoyne of Middleburg, Fla., Navarrete of San Juan, Texas, and Woodcoff of San Antonio, Texas - all 24 - last week had their charges reduced by a judge from murder to concealing a death, a felony. District Attorney Gray Conger said he may still seek murder indictments for all four soldiers, but declined to comment further.

Davis attended schools in Kansas, Missouri, and California. After high school, he joined the US Army training in 1998 at Fort Sill, OK for basic training and field artillery. He was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas shortly thereafter.

The young soldier continued serving his country when he was sent to war-torn Bosnia. He decided to leave the army after September 11, 2001 but rejoined three months later. He was sent to Kuwait for Operation Desert Spring in 2002 to prepare for the war in Iraq.
Born in Germany to parents who both served in the military, Richard Davis was a dedicated man in uniform. On the day of his funeral, his parents gave him one final salute. (with AP wire reports)