Bill Davis: Veteran for Veterans

IN PERSON

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Bill Davis works with veterans and the community through the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association.

Bill Davis knows how it feels to be fired at, and return fire.

"You haven't lived until you've been shot at," he says, smiling.

The Post Falls man also understands the stress that veterans can bring home with them after being in combat. It's one of the reasons he's been involved with the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association since 2005.

Davis, who served with the U.S. Army from 1967 to 1971, saw action during the Vietnam War. When he returned home from the war, he wasn't the same man who left, he says. His greeting back in America - often being yelled and spit at - made the anger grow.

He sees veterans returning from combat in the Middle East in need of counseling, of advice, someone to help with seeking vet benefits, someone simply to provide support.

When contacted for an interview, Davis said he would sit down and talk with the hope other veterans would benefit from his story.

Combat vets, he says, know how to get things done. And that is something Bill Davis does well.

"We know how to adjust and execute, so keep that in mind," he said.

What do you do with CVMA?

Work for other veterans and work in the community. We've been heavily involved in Toys for Tots and Salvation Army. We do outreach to veterans to get them on the right track as far as filing claims, getting medical benefits, that's primarily been my function.

Why is this important to you?

I don't want to see the young men and women come back and get treated like I did. All Vietnam vets will tell you that. We don't take care of vets in this country. We really don't. You go to other countries, and veterans, they're honored for serving their country. We don't have that. We're comfortable, a little complacent here. Especially now with these young vets because they're mostly National Guardsmen and Reservists, they have families at home and jobs when they get deployed and they're gone for a year, a year and a half. They go into a combat zone, and they're expected to come back and just pick up the pieces like they never left. It causes some real problems on families. The strain they're under, they've got to find a job, they have to support a family, they have to pay the rent. There are resources for these people, but the amount of red tape is monumental. I've been doing this long enough, 10-12 years that I know how to back door a few things once in awhile, get some action here. I'm not paid by the government or by anybody to do this. I don't have a bureaucracy to answer to.

What was it like when you returned from Vietnam?

I was spit at and called names. I went right back to college in Ohio. On the college campus, I was a pariah. The Vietnam conflict was not popular. Nobody could figure out why we were there. I went out of a sense of duty and honor because of the country. Then I got there, I couldn't figure out why I was there. I already had my own issues about the whole thing. I was a little conflicted. Then I came back and even my family treated me like I had leprosy or something. I was a little hard to get along with when I got back.

How did going to Vietnam change you?

One of the most hurtful things that was said to me in my life was said by my mother about six months after I'd been home. She looked at me across her dinner table and said, 'Am I ever going to get my son back?' My point of view was different, I was a lot harder about things, I started to form opinions you don't get to have when you're 19. And it gave me a little different view of how things were working, what's reality. I got out of school and I taught a couple years, moved on and worked in another profession and I got to where I couldn't take it any more, and I pulled up the stakes and moved out into the mountains.

Where did you go?

Oregon to start with, then I went to Washington and I eventually wound up in Idaho. I just raised cattle. I didn't bother anybody, I didn't want them to bother me.

Does it seem like many would want to do that?

We have a tremendous amount of veterans, especially in this area of the country, who have done just that. They're so off the grid, that when I have the opportunity to work with one of them, I understand where they're coming from. I know what they're saying.

How long was it until you felt you were back to yourself?

To be honest with you, it's never happened. I'm exactly who I am right now. I'm pretty comfortable in my own skin. I've taken some of the anger and disillusionment and channeled it properly now. I don't think being in a combat zone ever really leaves you unscathed. Something happens and it just changes your core values. What it comes down to for me, my core values were completely different. I spent 40 some years trying to figure it out.

What was it like in Vietnam?

It was hot and humid. Most of the time the officers who got orders weren't entirely sure what we were doing. It was chaotic all that time. At any given moment you could start taking rocket fire. And all the Vietnamese looked alike. They didn't wear uniforms. I can relate today with these young men and women in the Middle East because you don't know. You have this heightened sense of awareness, I call it hypervigilance.

When you came home, did you have any idea what to expect?

I really didn't. All we got was information they wanted us to have. I guess I knew what was going on, but I didn't realize how deep-seated the resentment was for Vietnam soldiers. It was hard to find a place to fit in.

When we started the Combat Vets Association about six years ago, it was specifically for people like me. We weren't going to be big in the American Legion and the VFW, we just weren't going to get involved, but we all rode motorcycles and we all really wanted to help other veterans. This gave us a venue. We could get together, we didn't have to talk about our service days. We understood each other. Sometimes when somebody got a little out of sorts because of a problem they were having, we knew what to say to them. This was our brotherhood, it had a lot of camaraderie.

So CVMA made a difference in your life?

Oh yeah, absolutely.

You recommend it to other vets?

If you were a combat veteran and you want the brotherhood, if you want to feel like you're helping other veterans. In the community, we're involved in a lot of other things. It's not just riding in parades and that sort of thing. We don't have a clubhouse. We have no function other than to work with veterans. We go to the vets home, play bingo with the boys down there, just try and keep the lines of communication open.

Have you met a lot of veterans?

Yes. I think a lot of it is because of our patch. Our patch is pretty distinctive. There's a lot of guys coming back asking, 'What do you guys do?' We tell them about it. The thing that makes us different as far as a veterans motorcycles group, is to wear that patch you had to have been in combat. That distinguishes us to a certain degree.

Have you been able to help other vets?

I can actually see some benefit for them, other than having to put up with me. I've actually made friends with a few of the wives, they call and says 'He's acting nuts and drinking again.' I say, 'Well, have him call me or I'll call him.' I'll just go sit down with him. I'll ask him, 'Are you intentionally destroying your family? Is that what you started to do when you got out of bed this morning?'

I've been told I can be pretty successful with these young men. I'm not a psychologist, I've just been there, done that. I'm point blank with them.

There's something that triggers some of these misbehavings. I'm not judgmental about it. I'm not going to give them psychobabble. Take a look at what you're doing. 'Well, the war screwed me up,' they'll say. Well, it screwed a lot of us up.

I've grown a lot. That's been the side benefit through all of this. I see things different. It makes me a little more accepting. Instead of closing myself off I'm able to open myself up a little better. I didn't have that going on before.

What message would you send to combat vets struggling with life?

There is help. Don't close yourself off. There is some light at the end of the tunnel.

Date of birth: January 1949

Education: Boston College and Ohio State

Favorite movie: "Lonesome Dove"

Favorite author: Vincent Riley

Favorite type of music: Old rock and roll and blues.

Favorite spectator sport: Bull riding

Person who most influenced your life: My father, Charles. He gave me a strong set of values. He was a Welch immigrant and he could be a little unwavering about things. But he was fair and he was very gentle. He was open to people. If they had a problem, they went to Charles. He's still my hero.

Quality you admire most in a person: Integrity

One thing you consider your greatest accomplishment: People come to me with problem, I'm a bit of a problem solver.

Best advice you ever received: Don't volunteer for anything. I should have followed that advice.

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