One of the most time-honored traditions of military life is a military funeral honors ceremony. For military families, it serves as a way to pay tribute to and remember the service and sacrifice of their lost veteran. Unfortunately, for so many military families, the COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to this deeply personal aspect of the memorial process for several years. For the family of Senior Chief Petty Officer Donald C. Davis Jr., missing the opportunity to fulfill the final request of their patriarch with an honors ceremony was heartbreaking.
“A sailor waits their whole life for that honor to be paid," said Samantha Lisko, SCPO Davis’ daughter. "So many people didn’t get that honor, including my dad, and it was incredibly hard."
SCPO Davis passed away from complications of COVID-19 on December 21, 2020. Because of the public health restrictions in place at that time, Davis’ family was unable to be with him in the hospital when he passed. Instead, they had to say their last goodbyes virtually while a nurse held a tablet up to his bed.
The heartbreak for the Davis family only continued when they learned that SCPO Davis would not receive his full military honors at his funeral. Instead, just two military color guard personnel would be permitted to attend to help fold and present the American flag to Davis’ wife, Lucinda.
“Because of the COVID restrictions in place, we were only allowed to have two color guard personnel at my dad’s service,” said Samantha. “They honored him the best that they could, given the conditions.”
Following the funeral services, Lucinda realized that the flag she had been presented with during the service had come unfolded and was now unfit for display.
Now nearly two years later, the family was still waiting for the right opportunity to have the flag refolded so that they could properly put it on display in their family home. As chance would have it, Samantha would find them the right opportunity and so much more.
Samantha works as a quality assurance records analyst for REACH Air Medical Services, part of the Global Medical Response (GMR) family of companies. She works at the REACH maintenance facility in McClellan, California, a former active military base near Sacramento.
One afternoon in late December 2022, members of the newly formed Northern California GMR honor guard were running their first practice drills in the maintenance hangar where Samantha’s office is located.
“By chance, someone mentioned to me that the honor guard was at our facility, and I immediately thought, ‘I wonder if I can go sneak into my mom’s house and grab the flag and see if they will fold it for us,’” said Samantha. “I approached Gary Miller, our assistant director of maintenance, with my idea, and he said he would ask Chad Newland, one of the volunteers helping to assemble and organize the GMR Northern California honor guard unit.”
Samantha was hoping she could present a properly folded flag to her mother and the rest of her family on Christmas morning as a surprise present. What she didn't anticipate was that the Northern California honor guard unit would be comprised of several military veterans who would stop at nothing short of a full honors ceremony for a fellow veteran.
"Chad approached me during our second day of training and explained Samantha’s situation and asked if we wouldn’t mind refolding the flag for her family, “said Sandy Logan, national honor guard commander for GMR. "I said, well, let me go speak with her, but yes, it would be a privilege to do that since several of us are veterans."
After speaking with Samantha about her father and his funeral services, Sandy went back to completing drills with the honor guard, but as the day went on, he decided that more needed to be done to honor SCPO Davis.
"I asked Gary if it was possible to have a helicopter land in front of the hangar doors so that we could set up for a full ceremony," said Logan. "I knew it would be perfect training for our team and that it would bring across the seriousness of this role and remind them of why they became part of the honor guard. Everyone thinks that the honor guard is just for EMS personnel, but it is for EMS, fire, law enforcement, and military - it doesn't matter what badge you wear. We are all emergency services, and if we can help ease the discomfort and pay proper respects to the fallen, then that is what we need to do."
With a plan in place, Logan approached Samantha with an offer: The GMR honor guard would host a full ceremony for her father where they would fold and present the flag to her family. Samantha was ecstatic.
“This was such a beautiful representation of GMR,” said Samantha. “They exceeded my wildest imagination. Sandy came in and said that they were going to honor my father with a full ceremony.”
Samantha immediately began making calls to see if her nearby family members would be able to attend on short notice. Luckily, Samantha’s mother was free and was able to come.
The moment Lucinda and Samantha walked across the hangar floor was captured on video. Their footsteps echoed against the walls of a silent aircraft hangar, normally filled with a cacophony of sounds from maintenance equipment.
A REACH H-135 served as the backdrop for the honor guard, who stood in formation. A stretcher sat in the center of it all, draped with a flag – a representation of SCPO Davis. Staff from every department in the McClellan facility silently stood and watched. The distinctive sound of taps began to reverberate in the hangar shortly after Samantha and her mother took their seats.
The colors were presented to Samantha and Lucinda, and then the moment they had waited more than two years for happened – the flag was refolded and presented. SCPO Davis had finally received his full honors.
"It was a privilege and an honor to help represent and thank a fellow veteran," said Logan. “All of us in the military, doesn't matter what branch, whether you are fully active or reserves, took an oath to protect the United States. It doesn't end – it never ends until you are done."
The ceremony, while pulled together in just a matter of hours, finally brought closure to a family that thought they had lost the chance to honor and recognize the service of their beloved patriarch.
“You wait your whole life for your dad to be honored in the way that you think he should be,” said Samantha. “And for the honor guard to recognize that and to pay my dad that honor, it meant so much.”
SCPO Davis served in the United States Navy for 21 ½ years. During his service, he received the National Defense Service Medal; Vietnam Service Medal; Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal; Navy Unit Commendation; Vietnamese MUC Gallantry Cross; Letter of Commendation; Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal; Humanitarian Service Medal; Deployment Ribbon; Navy Achievement Medal; Navy Unit Citation; Battle Effectiveness Award; Fifth Consecutive Good Conduct Award.
In Samantha's words, her father was a man of great integrity and lived every day for his family. He loved his country fiercely. He believed that hard work and sacrifice never go unnoticed and to do good and love others even when life is hard.