Sammy Davis Jr. (Entertainer)
b. 8 Dec 1925 – d. 16 May 1990
US Army, 1943
(WWII, Entertainment Special Services)
Davis was drafted into the US Army in 1943, when was eighteen, and his experiences were not happy ones. When he arrived for basic training he saw a PFC sitting on the steps of the barracks. He walked over to him and said, "Excuse me, buddy. I'm a little lost. Can you tell me where 202 is? The man jerked his head back and said "Two buildings down and I'm not your buddy, you black bastard!"
Overnight the world looked different. It wasn't one color any more. I could see the protection I'd gotten all my life from my father and Will (an "uncle" with the Will Mastin Trio). I appreciated their loving hope that I'd never need to know about prejudice and hate, but they were wrong. It was as if I'd walked through a swinging door for eighteen years, a door which they had always secretly held open.
Due to his abuse by fellow soldiers, he was transferred to an entertainment regiment, and eventually found himself performing in front of some of the same soldiers who had painted the word "coon" on his forehead. For example, after one performance at the Officer's Club, a fellow soldier motioned for Sammy to join his table, he said he wanted to make peace and slid a pitcher of beer towards Sammy. When Sammy poured a drink and started drinking, the soldiers fell out laughing. Sammy soon discovered that he was actually drinking urine. (Later this same group would kidnap Sammy out of the barracks and paint him white from head to toe.)
In spite of enduring this extreme racism, Davis found that the spotlight lessened the prejudice. Even prominent white men admired and respected his performances. "My talent was the weapon, the power, the way for me to fight. It was the one way I might hope to affect a man's thinking," he said. After his discharge, Davis rejoined the family dance act, which played at clubs around Portland, Oregon. He began to achieve success on his own and was singled out for praise by critics, releasing several albums under contract with Decca Records and going on to international fame in both movies and music.
During the 1960s and 70s and into the 80s, Sammy Davis, Jr continued to support his country by touring with the USO around the world. He described his USO tours as among the most exciting and satisfactory experiences in his career. Above are several pictures of him during his Vietnam tour in 1972, along with a plaque commemorating his Vietnam tour, and Sammy dancing with Lola Falana in Germany, September 1968. Below is a video of him joining Bob Hope in 1981 on the USS Lexington docked in Pensacola, FL.