Gloria Davis works long hours in Howard Auditorium on set and costume designs for the ORU theater department. She is 66 years old and has a smile which stretches to her eyes under short brown hair. Her friendly disposition brings joy to those around her.
Davis isn’t the average grandmother. She is a Vietnam War veteran who suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs refused to pay for her education because she “couldn’t handle the stress of going to school.”
She is engaged, studious and determined to succeed in the classroom.
“It’s been a struggle. There have been a lot of days where I’ve cried. I’ve even wanted to quit. There have been times I’ve said, ‘I quit. I don’t want to do this anymore.’ But I don’t. I keep going,” Davis laughed.
It’s hard to imagine Davis anywhere other than a theater setting, but she helped pave the way for women in combat. After her 1968 high school graduation and unbeknownst to her family, Davis enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in her first service and the navy in her second.
“I knew my mother wouldn’t be able to handle it,” Davis sighed. “I had help from a friend. They helped me to hide where I was. She [her mother] thought I was in California working. I would send my mail there and they [her friends] would re-envelope it then send it on to her mother. She’d send mail to them and on to me. ”
Davis was in Vietnam in the 1970s. She took a couple of days leave and traveled to Ho Chi Minh City to shop at several local vendors. Davis turned out of a shop to start down the street and something made her look up.
Unknown to her parents, she was serving her country in the same region of Vietnam as her stepfather. Davis glimpsed his familiar head bobbing up and down through the crowd on the busy street.
As he turned in her direction, she ducked into a shop to her left and hid behind some items. Davis watched as her stepfather passed. She never talked to him about it, even after he figured it out.
Technically, women didn’t fight in the war—at least not while she was enlisted. But the ravages of war lay on many battlefields.
“I was doing an investigation and was being transported over an area of jungle that was reportedly safe,” said Davis. “Otherwise, they wouldn’t [have] sold me on it. However, some enemy had moved in and began firing at the helicopter. The gunner was hit, and I tended his wound to stop the bleeding, and grabbed the gun, and started shooting. Wasn’t supposed to, but I wasn’t going to stay up there being shot at.”
Davis dealt with her PTSD by writing poems of the grotesque nightmarish scenes. As she closes her eyes, a massacre of bodies cover the land while blood forms rivers. She falls while running for shelter. Blood and organs of a dead comrade covered the front of her.
Planes zoom overhead while automatic machine guns fire through the air and bombs explode with deafening power. She hears tank engines revving and ambulance sirens wailing. There are screams from mothers and cries of children. A fallen soldier is praying for mercy. Davis calls this “the sound of war.”
“Sometimes you laughed in an attempt to keep your sanity, or you would cry until all your tears ran out. Sometimes you would kneel and pray, and then you would stand and curse. It was the closest thing to hell you could find, without dying. Although, everyone dies in some part, no one truly came home as they had gone,” Davis wrote in her poem “The ‘Nam.”
When Davis was a little girl her great uncle, R.H. Horne, an old Texas cowboy, sat her down and they had a talk. It was the first of many. It became her mantra: “Can’t. Never could. Never will.”
“He told me, ‘never let anyone tell you you can’t do something because you’re a woman.’ It was very unusual for his era. He had these sayings, ‘winners don’t quit. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.’ I hear that every time I think, ‘I can’t do that. There is no way to complete this.’ I literally hear his voice ringing through my head,” said Davis.
She was told she was just a woman in the service. She was told she couldn’t handle PTSD. The military told her she couldn’t handle going back to school. She refused to believe what they said she couldn’t do. She will graduate with honors in May as a Drama-Television-Film Performance major. Davis still doesn’t give up.