On June 15, 2016, my Dad, Hammond Davis, received a call. It was the sort of offer he couldn’t refuse, for an assignment to a place he had never been before. And, unlike his many other military assignments, he would not be returning. His work on Earth was done. He had gone home to be with his Lord Jesus.
Dad was born on October 11, 1922 in Hall County, Ga. to the late Ernest Davis and Ida Mae Tyner Presley. He grew up during the Great Depression. His mother divorced when he was very young, in a time when divorce was socially unacceptable. During his early adolescence, she married for a second time, to Golden Presley – a man who would become a stepdad, and who we would, in latter years, fondly call “Pop Presley”. Times were tough and work was almost non-existent in Georgia for many during the mid-1930s. Dad would tell us of stories of the hard times when his stepfather found work in the steelyards of Pennsylvania. When it was time to return to the South, there was only enough money to send him and his mother back by train. Men often “hoboed” back by sneaking on the railcars carrying industrial cargo. As I said, times were tough. Resources were scarce. Nothing was ever wasted. Ever.
From these experiences, I believe Dad would carry this mindset throughout his life. He went on to live with his grandmother and graduated from Lyman Hall High School in Gainesville, GA.
After graduating, he worked for Westinghouse and Atomic Energy, then decided to join the Army. He served a solo tour in Germany in the late 1950s. I remember being fascinated by this handsome man who was our part-time Dad. He had a full head of curly black hair that I admired and wanted! He told me that if I would drink buttermilk my hair would turn black and curly. Because he was my idol and I wanted my locks to look just like his, I choked down many glasses of buttermilk. It never happened.
While in Germany, Dad started to study communications and eventually joined an elite group of men being formed in the Department of Defense who would eventually work out of the American Embassy in numerous foreign countries. From what little information we have, he worked decoding morse code messages for the President of the United States.
He received his first assignment to Africa in 1962. We moved from North Georgia to Asmara, Ethiopia where we enjoyed “13 months of sunshine”, meeting England’s Queen Elizabeth, and vacationing at Massawa on the Red Sea. Riding camels, jumping off Dad’s shoulders at least a hundred times and collecting large conch shells were our favorite things to do there. I distinctly remember when my friend Alice and I spotted an unusually beautiful shell specimen at the same time. It was quite the debate as to who it belonged to. When we noticed “something” crawling out of it, we took it to my Dad who proceeded to settle the argument. When that big, ugly crab started trying to pinch us, we decided that neither of us wanted it! Those days the weather extremes were as vastly different as our activities. It was VERY hot during the day and VERY cold at night. That was the first place I remember seeing salt harvested by the seaside. I started getting a geography lesson that I wouldn’t soon forget.
When we weren’t at the Red Sea, you might find us playing shuffleboard or with the giant chameleons that the local kids would parade around the fence at a resort called Karon, or laying on Dad’s scratchy Army blanket by the pool at Kagnew Station, the military base in Asmara. I’ll never forget the afternoons that we would be in the car on base. Promptly at 5:00 p.m., “Taps” started playing all over the base, all cars stopped. The soldiers got out of their vehicles and stood at attention as the flag was lowered for the night. Whenever I hear that song, my mind goes back to those days. It was a time when patriotism was instilled in my life.
Dad’s love of cars started about this time. He bought two antique Fiats and an Alfa Romeo that had an aluminum body and had been handmade for Mussolini. He would tinker with them and once they were in working order, he would drive us around the neighborhood while we sang at the top of our lungs. That was our after-dinner and before-bedtime treat. I remember those trips fondly.
When our days in Africa came to an end, he made arrangements to have his car collection shipped and we moved back to the U.S. for Dad to continue his training. Some time in between these worldwide assignments, my cousin Ricky tells of the F.B.I. visiting Dad’s mother, my grandmother, at her house in Georgia. According to his account, they drove up in a big black car, got out dressed head-to-toe in dark suits and sunglasses, and proceeded to “inspect” things. It was all part of the background check required to be assigned to special duty. At the beginning of June, 1967, Dad made a trip to the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. He was to receive orders for his first official Diplomatic Department of Defense assignment. He was about to become part of an elite group of men who had 24/7 communication with the President. Excited, he phoned mother and informed her we would be moving to Beirut, Lebanon. The very next day the 6-Day War broke out. Needless to say, mother was relieved when we got reassigned to Ankara, Turkey.
We lived in the capital city for three years and traveled all over Asia Minor discovering the vast Biblical and historic treasures. We visited Istanbul, The Blue Mosque, and the Dolmabahçe Palace. Many of my Girl Scout camping experiences were on the Aegean Sea, in Izmir, Ephesus, and Pergamum, and many of the finest archeological sites in Turkey. We visited the Virgin Mary’s house, and watched the Whirling Dervishes spin themselves into a trance by twirling round and round.
Mexico City was our next assignment where we spent three years in one of the largest, most populous cities in the world. We took weekend trips and picnicked by tailgating out of Dad’s beloved VW stationwagon. Sunday afternoons were magical when spent with friends on the canals and boats in Xochimilco – best described as the “Venice of Mexico.”
Week long trips to our friend’s ranch near Acapulco were lots of fun. I remember the Las Brisas Hotel because everything was pink from the jeeps to the pool edge. The cliff divers were astounding too. I couldn’t imagine jumping off the edge of a cliff the way those guys do.
From Mexico, we moved to Bangkok, Thailand. This was our first experience in Asia. Adjusting to the heat and humidity proved to be the most challenging part for our family.
The rainy/monsoon season began shortly after we arrived. Some days I would see Dad headed out the door to catch his ride dressed in a suit, with his pants legs rolled up, carrying his shoes, socks and briefcase in his hands. A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. Even if it’s hiring a gardener with a BIG stick to hit the cobras hiding in the bushes and to shop at the floating market instead of the commissary.
Retirement was on the horizon after the Bangkok assignment. Looking back, he had had an amazing career: World War II veteran, recipient of numerous Department of War Awards, The Ronald Reagan National Republican Committee award and finally – officially retired from the U.S. Army Defense Attache.
After a short stint in Fort Devins, MA to wrap up the legalities, Dad came home to Georgia where he and mother had already bought and set up their retirement home. And, where Hammond added 39 (not a typo) more cars to his “collection”.
One afternoon, while at my work desk, my sister called to tell me that she saw Dad crossing the railroad tracks near her office- ON A BICYCLE! We figured out he had put the bike in the trunk of a car that he wanted to move and rode the bike back home so no one was the wiser. What he hadn’t counted on was her seeing him in action!
Those were the days before microwave ovens. I would sometimes go to their house and eat lunch with him. Mother was a great cook, so we would feast on leftovers heated up in what we referred to as “prison plates” – more commonly known as tin pie pans.
Dad helped with my daughter, Christi – patiently playing with her for hours. He loved his grandkids and great grandkids. It was only after he had Alzheimer’s that he would look at us and say, “who’s kids are those?” and “who are you anyway?” However, we were fortunate that he was the sweetest Alzheimer’s patient that one would ask for. Yet, he would not have chosen to live a life not knowing. He chose a life of intelligence, dignity, grace, and respect for himself, his country, and those around him.
Watch this video to see how we celebrated his life with a full military funeral that
After his death, I was going through some of his papers and realized I never knew how much he had to go through to qualify for the awards and assignments granted to him. I found myself asking, “How can a man who was offered so little in life turn out to be such a good father and an all around great man?” Even though he never had a true father figure in his life, he was a wonderful father to many. I believe he looked to his Heavenly Father as an example.
Today, I ask that each of you reading take a moment to help us raise awareness for Alzheimer’s patients and their families worldwide. Alzheimer’s disease is completely debilitating for not only the patients but their families and caretakers. Alzheimer’s disease kills more people than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined, yet it’s victims suffer in silence, their struggles often swept under the carpet. My Dad deserved, as moms and dads everywhere do, the right to retain their intelligence, their wit, and their precious memories for all of their days on Earth until they receive that final assignment and are granted perfect peace as they look down on us from Heaven. We can, and will, find a way to eliminate Alzheimer’s.