William Hugh Davis
Bill Davis was against war because he had been part of the Vietnam War.
Obituary by Larry Finley, Chicago Sun-Times
A product of West Virginia farm fields, he joined the Air Force in 1966 in hopes of avoiding jungle battlefields. Instead he ended up a helicopter mechanic at Vung Tau Army Airfield, in Vietnam.
“Very early in his tour he had to unload the bodies from the helicopters,” said his wife, Joan. “That’s when it hit him. It wasn’t something he talked about.”
William Hugh Davis, 59, president of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, died of interstitial pneumonia Wednesday in the University of Chicago Hospitals.
Mr. Davis had been an anti-war activist for more than 30 years. He also was a United Parcel Service mechanic, a labor activist and president of Local #701 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.
Joined the Air Force
Born in Baltimore on Feb. 24, 1948, Mr. Davis ended up living with grandparents in West Virginia after his parents separated and divorced, his wife said.
“When the war came, he was from a family that was always in the service,” she said. “In West Virginia that’s what you did. . . . He didn’t get a football scholarship that would hold him and he knew he would be drafted so he chose the Air Force and got assigned to an Army division. Very early on, he decided that the venture was wrong.”
His assignments during a year in Vietnam (1968-1969) included servicing aircraft and playing football on a military team, his wife said. He then served for a year in Thailand with the Automated Battlefield Project, an effort to use the latest electronic technology to gather information and to locate and eliminate the enemy.
“He saw what a big country and the electronic battlefield could do to a small country,” said Barry Romo, national coordinator for the VVAW. “He saw Vietnamese die. He saw Americans die. He came back determined to make the world a better place. He didn’t turn to violence . . . or cynicism, or self-destruction.”
After the war, he settled in Columbus, Ohio, near his mother, and attended Ohio State University. He joined the VVAW and moved to the headquarters in Chicago. Here he met his future wife, who was a political activist from the University of Wisconsin in Madison.
“We met through political circles,” she said. “Some of our fondest moments were selling political newspapers at the steel mills in the wee hours of the day. If we sold two papers, we thought we were successful.”
Also opposed war in Iraq
Mr. Davis retired this year as a mechanic for UPS, where he was president of his local, as well as a former steward and chief steward. He was active in the Oak Park Democratic Party and had worked in numerous political campaigns, including that of Chicago Mayor Harold Washington.
He was a vocal opponent of the war in Iraq, his wife said, and a founder of Labor Against the War. He worked with the Iraq Veterans Against the War and was a regular speaker at Veterans Day and Memorial Day rallies, as well as national and international events.
Mr. Davis was a big, burly, bear of a guy whose enthusiasm extended to food and drink, coaching and umpiring in the Oak Park Youth Baseball league, and supporting the Chicago Bears and the White Sox, his wife said.
“I hated football and Bill hadn’t missed a Bears game in 25 years, rain or shine,” his wife said. “He had season tickets up in the top rows with the spiders. . . . I went to one game. For Bill and me, having a belief that activism can make a better world is what bonded us and kept our marriage strong.”
During it all, he never neglected his daughter, Rebecca, or his son, Joshua, who died in 2001 at the age of 18, said his wife of 29 years.
“He always had hope,” his wife said. “Not that he wasn’t frustrated and angry at the slowness of things, but he always hoped for better.”