Two decades after her father died in a Fort Bragg training accident, Hannah Davis isn’t quite sure what memories are real.
The faint recollections of her childhood — Davis was 3 when her father died — have merged with stories shared with the family over the past 20 years.
But there’s one story that Davis knows is all hers.
It starts with her mother, Ann, toweling a young Hannah off after a bath.
“It’s super embarrassing,” Davis said.
She remembers her mother wrapping her up tight — arms and all — in a towel and then sending her off to her father.
“I’d run out to the living room to see my dad and he’d goofily yell ‘Where’s your arms?’ and I’d shake my arms free,” Davis said.
“I love hearing my dad’s voice,” she said, after taking stock one more time of the cherished memory. “I can hear it in my head.”
First Lt. Jeffrey Davis died on Jan. 31, 1998. But the decorated soldier — who served in the enlisted ranks prior to becoming an officer — has left behind a legacy that is much more than a handful of medals.
Davis — now working for local FOX and CBS affiliates near Cadillac, Michigan — said she and a younger brother, Blake, are her father’s legacy.
That makes it all the more important to succeed, she said.
At the same time, her father’s sacrifice has given her a nudge in the right direction.
Thanks to scholarships from the Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation, Davis said she’s a 23-year-old college graduate with no student loans.
“It’s such a blessing,” she said. “Without a doubt, it’s fantastic. I know it’s a gift from my father.”
Davis said it’s amazing how so many people step in to support the families of fallen soldiers. But it’s a feeling she almost didn’t know for herself.
After 1st Lt. Davis died in 1998, his family left Fort Bragg and moved home to their native Michigan. Davis said she and her brother grew up in a small town, “nowhere near a military base.”
“No one could relate to my situation,” she said. “From age 3 to 19, I never had a conversation with anyone who had experienced similar things to me.”
And Davis might have gone her entire life without such a conversation were it not for the Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation. Davis discovered the organization while searching for scholarships online during her freshman year of college.
Looking back, she sheepishly admits that she should have been paying attention in class, but instead was worried about paying the bills to keep her in school.
“I think it definitely was at a point where my bill was due for the next semester and I didn’t know what to do,” Davis said.
Before that search, she said she had no idea that organizations supported the children of fallen soldiers.
“Scholarships hadn’t crossed my mind,” she said. “I stumbled across Children of Fallen Patriots and we had a conversation later that week about how they could help us financially.”
The help brought Davis to tears.
“I am one year out of college with no student loans thanks to Children of Fallen Patriots,” she said.
The organization also has offered much more.
“Everybody’s so incredible,” Davis said. “It’s honestly been so therapeutic to spend time – to talk to people with similar situations.”
First Lt. Davis died at Simmons Army Airfield on Fort Bragg when a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter malfunctioned during routine maintenance, according to reports. Another soldier, Spc. Bethany Stewart, was also killed. And a third soldier was injured.
Before his death, 1st Lt. Davis had served as a sentinel at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier while serving with the 3rd Infantry Regiment, or Old Guard, in Washington. He later served as an Army Ranger and then as a Special Forces soldier before becoming an officer and helicopter pilot.
Even years after his death, Davis is still learning about her father. Every week, she said, reveals new information about an old favorite song or a random fact.
“For my brother and I, stories of my dad are always a really cool treat,” Davis said. “Even just the little things are so cool.”
“He definitely is still present in our lives,” she said. “My dad was badass. He never stood down to a challenge. If there was something he wanted to do, he did it… He was unstoppable.”
Davis said she sees some of her father in herself. She wants to make him proud.
“I’m lucky I was given this incredible gift,” she said. “I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without my dad looking down on me.”
Military editor Drew Brooks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 486-3567.