One generation of brothers serves over 150 years in military

Phenix City, AL

For 11 of the 16 Davis children, serving in the military served as a path out of their hometown, Wetumpka, Ala., where opportunities were few and far between in the 1950s and 1960s. Between them, they can boast more than a century and a half of service.

"There was nothing going on in Wetumpa," said Lebronze Davis, Vietnam veteran and Legionnaire. "You had the cotton mill, you had the logging company, sawmill, or you stayed and worked on the farm. So there weren't a lot of choices."

He said there were only two or three stoplights in the town during the time he grew up, and the first time he rode to town in a vehicle that wasn't a wagon, he was in his teens. The Davises lived on a farm outside town, growing cotton and food crops.

Lebronze's father, Ben Davis, Sr., offered him an ultimatum the night of his high school graduation: stay and help work on the farm or set off in the world. Ben and Lebronze's mother, Hattie, would support either decision.

"And I left the next morning," Lebronze said. He headed to Detroit, where a few of his siblings had already moved. There, he was drafted. He served in the infantry in Vietnam.

He doesn't remember hearing lots of military stories from his older siblings. Before they served, they knew of their uncle, Thomas Davis, surviving the Pearl Harbor attack. But service was more a fact of life.

As a young man, "a quiet one," Lebronze never planned to make a career of the military, calling out "lifers" when he joined. But he re-enlisted after he returned home, attended drill sergeant school and retired in 1988, after teaching countless young soldiers leadership and responsibility.

"Some of my best memories were when I was a drill sergeant ... when I made the trainees feel good about themselves and I could teach them something," he said. A soldier approached Lebronze years after he'd retired, and told him a particular guard duty Lebronze had assigned gave him the time to focus on his life's decisions and turn things around.

Lebronze served 20 years, then worked as a civil servant for 17 more years before retiring. But he was the ninth Davis brother to join. Between the Navy and the Army Reserves, Legionnaire Ben Davis, Jr. served 33 years. Edward Davis also served 20 in the Army. Calvin Davis served four in the Navy; Octavious Davis served two in the Army; Alphonza Davis served 29 years in the Army; Nathaniel Davis served three in the Army; Julius Davis served 13 years in the Air Force; Washington Davis (now deceased) served six years in the Army.

Following Lebronze, Frederick Davis served two years in the Army and Augusta Davis served 29 years in the Air Force.

"The military was a great stepping stone for all of us," said Nathaniel Davis, Army veteran.

"Every one of us wanted to see more than Wetumpka, so the military was a way out," Lebronze said. And they did. The Davis brothers served in Europe, America and Asia; in combat and in peace; in air, on land and sea.

While many Davises donned uniforms, Calvin said each brother had his "individual reason." For him, it was the G.I. Bill. He went on to civil service, but he said he took the opportunity to study real estate, a personal interest.

Yet, each brother shared a close-knit family, and, of course, his parents.

"They wanted us to do better. They wanted us to have more than they had," Lebronze said.

Yet coming of age on the farm provided them with the skills and personalities that lead to success in the military and elsewhere.

"Leadership was no problem in any of us because we were taught that at home. We were taught to be leaders, we were taught to be people with responsibility," Lebronze said. "We had to have this to survive out there on that farm."

Now, the surviving Davises - 13 of the 16 children, and 10 of the 11 veterans - stay close, though they've traveled the globe and are spread across the country, from Pennsylvania to California and in between.

"There's 13 of us left now, and we communicate constantly on a daily basis," Lebronze said.

The protocol might tip off an outsider the family is largely military.

"We have a family roster," Lebronze said. It includes names, numbers and addresses. "If anything happens seriously, we know who we have to call, and when you get that call you know who you have to call."

He talks to at least one sibling every day, he said. They also organize annual family reunions. Last year's was in Tunica, Miss. This year's will be in Pittsburgh.

"It's a homecoming. It's a celebration. A lot of people would never imagine how close we are and how we have fun with each other. It's really something. A lot of people would never understand how we can be gone so far away from each other and we're still so close," he said.

The main event at these reunions: Golf.

"Trying to play golf. Notice I said 'trying' to play golf," Lebronze said.

"I had an eagle during one tournament. I still have the ball," Calvin said. "Oh everybody's a rival. We're out to beat each other. But it's all in fun."

"We always say, we're all pros, we all make a pro shot every now and then. We get out there and have fun and enjoy each other," Lebronze said.

The next generations of Davises, men and women, have continued to serve, Lebronze said. Meanwhile, the brothers are enjoying retirement.

But when Nathaniel reflects on his family's military legacy, the fortune of all his veteran siblings returning home safely, he said, "It's kind of mind boggling."

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