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Volunteering local veteran

A way to get back into uniform and continue giving

Posted: January 1, 2009 7:01 p.m.
Updated: January 2, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Davison performs at a December 7th ceremony in Ventura as part of the First Memorial Honor Guard. He is wearing his Vietnam Class-A dress uniform signifying his rank as a Specialist E4. When he serves with the National Guard or with the State Military Reserve, he is a sergeant.

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At nearly 60, Robert Davison, already a decorated army veteran, decided his time to serve had come again.

But because of his age, Davison was unable to enlist in the military.

Instead, Davison chose to join the California State Military Reserve (SMR), a special part of the National Guard that helps train soldiers in the National Guard before going to war.

Davison said the inspiration to join came from a gun show in December 2007.

"I thought this is finally the way I can get back into uniform," he said.

A veteran of the Vietnam War, Davison felt he could share his experiences with young soldiers.

"I remember the atmosphere (of the Vietnam War). It was kind of a thankless war," he said.

Davison said he wanted to "impart knowledge to help (soldiers) come home in peace."

During his time in Vietnam, Davison served with distinction, becoming a squad leader in the 101st Airborne Division.

Davison's tour of duty ended in 1969, when he was hit in the shoulder by friendly-fire in the Ashaw Valley during the Tet Offensive. He earned a purple heart and returned home to Southern California.

He returned to civilian life, received a degree in accounting from California State University, Northridge and raised a family.

Now, nearly 40 years later, Davison finds himself back in uniform, ready to serve his country.

He jokingly refers to himself as "the oldest sergeant in the military."

During his first training session with National Guard soldiers, Davison said he did have second thoughts.

"I'm sitting on the bus thinking ‘what have I done, what am I thinking,'" he said. "It reminded me of leaving the Los Angeles induction center on the bus (during Vietnam)."

Although he found his experience similar, Davison found the makeup of the American soldier had changed drastically.

He said he met people in their mid-30s and up, including many with families waiting back at home.

Davison recalls talking to a 53-year-old soldier and thinking that many modern-day warriors are "full-time citizens and part-time soldiers."

Davison was also struck by the dedication of his fellow soldiers, in particular those who have served more than five tours of duty in Iraq.

"You don't believe you're going to be sent to a war zone five times," he said. "But none of them complained and five tours of duty is asking an awful lot."

During training sessions, Davison said people were amazed that a man of his age was volunteering to work.

"I still hike, walk, work, I do a lot to keep myself fit," he said.

Michael Leptuch, a former classmate of Davison's at St. Genevieve High School in Panorama City, joins Davison on walks every Sunday. On these walks, the two men, Leptuch said, "reminisce about the past, politics, those sorts of things."

Leptuch said he was surprised when Davison first told him of his intent to reenlist in the military, but thought it seemed like a good decision for Davison.

"He's got a real love of country and a feeling of civic duty," said Leptuch, a former Green Beret in Vietnam. "He is a soldier at heart and he's happy doing what he's doing."

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