Just recently, a remarkable resident of Tampa ― whose sacrifice made our liberty a reality over 70 years ago ― met his maker.
If I have any regret, it is that I knew this remarkable man for too short of a time. Earlier this summer, I had the unique honor of visiting with the father-in-law of one of Hillsborough County’s finest assistant public defenders, Marie Marino. I had met Marie in my volunteer role mentoring veterans who have fallen on the wrong side of the law and find themselves in the Veterans Treatment Court (VTC).
But on this particular day, I was not asked to mentor a fellow veteran in need. You see, Marie had a simple request of me ― just spend time with another fellow combat veteran, her father: Colonel Kenneth W. Davey, USAF retired. He was over 100 years old and flew bombing raids from the United Kingdom, across the English Channel, over Nazi Germany, during World War II. He is part of that elite and time-honored group of Americans that Tom Brokaw once dubbed “the greatest generation.” Having also participated in initial U.S. military operations in places such as Haiti and Iraq, I felt an immediate kinship with the colonel. I was also quite excited to meet probably one of the last few warriors and heroes of the war that forever changed the history of, and cemented the eventual world preeminence of, the United States of America. To me, Colonel Davey represented “living history.”
I was mesmerized during our three-hour visit. At times when he spoke, I felt like I was watching the last scene of the movie “Saving Private Ryan,” when the now elder Ryan “re-saw” Operation OverLord, the Normandy Beach landings, and “re-heard” the final charge that his company commander, Captain John H. Miller, uttered before he passed away: “James, earn this. Earn it …” On a more lighthearted note, we laughed when Colonel Davey recalled his “extra duty” ― escorting then Princess Elizabeth (now the Queen of England) around his Royal Air Base and his lively discussion with her. I also learned that he flew with the famed 303rd Heavy Bomb Group, based out of RAF Molesworth, U.K.
More than 61 years later, I would command the U.S. European Command’s Joint Analysis Center (JAC) in RAF Molesworth and home of the famed 303rd Heavy Bomb Group. I felt another connection with this great American.
At the end of our visit, I stood at attention, rendered a salute to a senior officer, and thanked him for not only his service to our great nation but for blessing his family, and all of us whom he has touched throughout his incredible life. Colonel Davey looked at me, and with a gleam and fire in his eyes, slowly but ever so precisely saluted in return. It was at that moment that I felt a spiritual passing of the baton. It was as if he was telling me, and our current and future generations of servicemen and women, to “Earn this. Earn it.”
On August 15, 2015, Colonel Davey died. Those teenagers and brave Americans who were in their 20’s during World War II are now seniors in their 90’s and are leaving us. They are no longer easily found. But the world that their courage created still stands.