Originally published in the Northwest Florida Daily News on March 30th, 2012
CHOCTAW BEACH – When the Explosive Ordinance Disposal School at Eglin Air Force Base is in session, veteran Wayland Davis can feel his house shake. The sound reverberates through the forest behind his home and makes the medals and trophies hanging above his bed fram quiver like somber chimes.
Pride tingles his spine.
Yet he sought a tribute to active and retired military members that would be more lasting than the intermittent echo of explosives.
“A veteran’s job is to do things to inspire morale in the troops,” Davis said. “And to help others that have had death or injury in their family.”
So the 74-year-old Davis wrote a letter to state Sen. Don Gaetz last November. An idea had come to him and it just seemed like something he was long supposed to have done.
“I wanted visitors, locals, to pause and see the sacrifices our soldiers ahve made and see the daily effort they continue to make to defend our country,” he said.
He asked for a small stretch of State Road 20 near his home in Choctaw Beach to be designated a Purple Heart Memorial Highway.
“I would’ve taken an inch of road,” he said.
Davis fully expected his proposal to vanish in the long grind of the political machine. To his amazement, Gaetz responded promptly.
Davis was persistent in his follow-up, and the Legislature recently approved the stretch of SR 20 from State Road 85 in Niceville to the Walton County line to be a Purple Heart Memorial Highway.
Instead of inches, he was given miles.
Davis had worked on roads before in a different capacity. As a combat engineer in the Vietnam War, he was in charge of repairing runways, keeping hangars bombproof, and overseeing all structural elements on Bien Hoa Air Base.
He also helped build an orphanage for Vietnamese children who lost their families in the war. His superiors even gave him time off to the finish the project.
His mission in Vietnam was not so different from what he has made it now: provide technical, behind-the-scenes support to troops while honoring human life. He maintains a humble passion for both.
When Davis wakes up in the morning, the first thing he sees is his wall of military decorations and mementos. It reminds him to say a prayer.
Sharing in this vigil will now be a simple matter of driving the right stretch of road through Niceville to Walton County.