Image courtesy: Pfc. David Hauk, U.S. Army. Kandahar, Afghanistan, November 12, 2009

Monday, May 31, 2010

The final lap

On August 15, 2004, NASCAR driver Tony Stewart wasn't sure if he could finish the race at Watkins Glen. Battling a severe case of stomach flu, the piercing pain nearly compelled Stewart to quit. Instead of letting his racing team down, Stewart persevered, outlasting 42 fellow drivers to win the road course race in dramatic fashion.

As Stewart and his crew celebrated on the New York track, a 13-year-old boy sat in his family's Iowa home with a big smile on his face. Future Lance Cpl. Joshua Davis, who would grow up to serve with honor in Afghanistan, deeply admired Stewart's refusal to give up during a time of adversity.

"Mr. Stewart was real sick but stuck it out and won," the Marine's father, Dave Davis, told The Unknown Soldiers. "That stuck with Josh and was part of his driving force of what made Josh Josh."

On May 17, The Unknown Soldiers told you about the extraordinary life of Lance Cpl. Davis, who was just 19 years old when he was recently killed in a Helmand province firefight. After learning from an article in The Des Moines Register that Davis was a Tony Stewart fan, I wished the driver could be made aware of this Marine's sacrifice. Thanks to the efforts of a wonderful blog reader named Dana Ulmo, I learned that The Tony Stewart Foundation wanted to help comfort the grieving family of one of the driver's biggest fans. With the help of Pastor Deb Parkison and Des Moines Register reporter Staci Hupp, I was put in touch with Davis' father, who sent me a dignified tribute to the humble hero he helped raise.

"Friends, teachers, coaches and fellow Marines that knew him [said] he had more character than most people," Dave Davis wrote. "He has never done anything for glory, but performs all tasks to get the team glory, on any team he was a part of."

Mr. Davis specifically thanked 1st Sgt. Brandon Eckardt for supporting his family during a time of tragedy. Instead of spending time with his wife and four-month-old child on Mother's Day weekend, 1st Sgt. Eckardt personally escorted the Davis family to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to salute Josh's flag-draped casket. Eckardt also told mourners in a Perry, Iowa, high school gym that during the fateful gun battle in Afghanistan, the former wrestling star chose to return fire with his machine gun instead of taking cover. The courageous actions of Lance Cpl. Davis shielded fellow Marines during perilous moments.

Soon, Davis' mother, father, brother, and two sisters will receive a letter and autographed picture from Tony Stewart, a compassionate superstar with a real commitment to supporting our men and women in uniform and their families. As the Marine's relatives look at the signed photo of one of NASCAR's biggest stars, the Davis family can be proud that their loved one became a hero to a sports star he respected so deeply.

Lance Cpl. Joshua Davis could have quit before the finish line on the battlefield. Instead, he chose to stand up and fight for his teammates. Efforts are underway to have a street named after the brave local son in Perry, Iowa. While the checkered flag has been raised for the valiant 19-year-old Marine, his honorable legacy encircles the heartland in a victory lap that will never end.

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