The 'real' Forrest Gump, MOH recipient Sammy Davis, is honored at Disneyland

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Stars and Stripes file photo
Stars and Stripes file photo

The 'real' Forrest Gump, MOH recipient Sammy Davis, is honored at Disneyland

by: Keith Sharon | .
The Orange County Register | .
published: November 07, 2015

He rescued three fellow soldiers and picked up the Medal of Honor for his heroic effort in Vietnam.

He played football in high school, worked on a fishing boat and once gave a speech on the mall in Washington D.C. about the importance of bringing home prisoners of war. He’ll call you “sir” or “ma’am” and tell you about Freedom, Indiana, where the only traffic signal is a flashing yellow light. He doesn’t live in Freedom (Population: 400), but about five miles outside town.

“It’s way too congested,” he said.

His name is not Forrest Gump, although he is truly Gumpian. Footage of him receiving his Medal of Honor from President Lyndon Johnson was used in the 1994 movie that won Best Picture and Best Actor for Tom Hanks. If you search on the Internet for the “real Forrest Gump” you will see his name.

“My name is Sammy Lee Davis,” he said. “Not Samuel or Sam. It says Sammy on my birth certificate. They didn’t use my name, but that movie is based on me.”

Sammy L. Davis will be honored Thursday during Disneyland’s daily “Flag Retreat” when the sun goes down. During the lowering of the flag, the Disneyland band and Dapper Dans will perform “The Star-Spangled Banner,” “God Bless America,” “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” “America the Beautiful,” “The Washington Post March” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”

“It’s going to be very heart-touching,” he said. “It’s going to swell my heart with pride.”

Disney spokesman Kevin Rafferty, Jr. said, "We have the privilege of recognizing our veterans every day during our flag retreat ceremony at Disneyland park. We are honored to extend a special thank you to Sammy L. Davis for his extraordinary courage and commitment to our country."

These days, Sammy Davis is a motivational speaker. He tours the country for almost 200 engagements per year. This weekend, he’ll be speaking at a military ball on Saturday night, and he’ll be the grand marshal of a parade on Sunday in Santa Barbara.

Whenever he speaks, he asks the question, “What is the lesson of the movie?”

People always answer like Forrest Gump in the film:“Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.”

“But that’s wrong,” Davis said. “The lesson of the movie is that you don’t lose until you quit trying.”

Like the fictional character, Davis, who was a private first class in the Army, received the Medal of Honor after he was wounded but still managed to rescue three American soldiers in 1967. In real life, he did not, however, pull down his pants to show LBJ his wound.

Davis is particularly happy to be honored at Disneyland because, in true Forrest Gump fashion, he got to meet Walt Disney.

When he was 18, Davis was the caretaker at Tinsley Island, a resort in the middle of the San Joaquin River just outside Stockton, Calif. Davis would mow the grass and pilot the boats of guests.

One of his favorite guests during the summers of 1964 and 1965 was Walt Disney, who visited the island with his brother Roy.

“Walt said he needed to get away,” Davis said. “They loved to fish, so I took them cat-fishing. They were very nice. We sat and talked about life and fishing. He told me he built Disneyland, and he invited me to come.”

Davis didn’t visit Disneyland until the 1980s, long after Walt died.

Thursday, he doesn’t know if he’ll get a chance to speak.

But if he does, his message will be the same as it always is: “Duty, honor, country,” Sammy Davis said.

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