I had never met Virginia Davis before, as far as I am aware. She had only been in the Heartland rehabilitation and retirement community she now calls home for a few days, and was clearly more than a little unsettled by her sudden loss of some independence. She is an old woman, and looked rather withered and feeble in her chair, like she didn’t move much. But her mind is as sharp and quick as her body isn’t, and as her thoughts raced from idea to idea, I had a hard time keeping up with her. Her eyes lit up with excitement as we began talking, as she shared with me some of the more important and life-shaping memories of her life. She bristled with pride as she spoke of her beloved country and the things she had seen while assisting in its defense, and the defense of others.
Virginia M. Davis. Tomlin Davis. You want my maiden name, I imagine. Virginia M. Tomlin Davis. I’m from North Lewisburg. I lived there seventy-some years. My mother was raised out over by where the Honda plant is now. My father was born in Saint Paris, [in the] western part of Champagne county. Out somewhere on route thirty-six. My father was a rail welder, so… my father took his training in Saint Paris, and then when I was older we lived in Kent. Then my father got a job down in North Lewisburg… ‘cause that’s where my mother was from, and my grandmother lived there, and all my relatives lived there. So, I’ve been there ever since.
Do you feel like as you were growing up, and going through life, that you had a really strong role model, or a family member that really shaped your life?
I had an aunt that was awful good to me. My mother’s younger sister. And I yet to this day haven’t figured out why. She used to do so much for me. She told me one time that I was more like a sister to her, because she was thirteen when I was born. And she was always doing things for me. Up until she passed away. And she had a family of her own. And she still took care of me.
Oh… what do I want to say? The world’s more, you know, inventions and things, it amazes me what they can do now, what I couldn’t, ‘cause I was on a little switchboard with the plugs. Today it’s all computers. I started operating when I was seventeen and all the rest of it. I was on that switchboard when Pearl Harbor was bombed. And I had the switchboard, and all of it dropped, so that I couldn’t answer them; I didn’t have enough plugs. I was talking to everybody. But the ironic thing about that was that I was in England on the switchboard, with the Eighth Air Force, when they went in on D-Day. In the morning.
It was scary, but I knew that, when I went to work that night, that something was up, because the switchboard was full with operators and the supervisor was there. And she didn’t work at nights. But she was there that night. And we had no relaxing at all. We worked constantly all night. When I got up, and when I got off work, it was still dark, and we were walking back to the barracks, and we could hear the radio, and the Germans were yelling “Invasion, invasion!” to their troops.
I’ve been back twice. The first time I went back, we went back to the estate where we had our headquarters, and there were people there to meet us and greet us, to take us back where our barracks used to be. Well, when I used to work, I would walk to work in the morning after breakfast, and once in a while we’d get an orange. And I was walking down this walk, and this little five-year-old boy came out and asked “What’s that in your hand?” and I said “An orange.” He said he’d never seen one. So I gave it to him. Well, when I went back in ’87, there was a young man and a woman that met me to take me back to the barracks, and we were walking back that way and I told them about the orange, and that man said “Well, I was that little boy!” And I went back in ’93 and saw him again. Well, I’ve lost contact with him. His wife wasn’t well. I don’t think I’ve lost his address. Anyway, I knew that I had done something for somebody,
I flew over Germany and France in a B-24 after the war was over. The sight was not good. It’s where they bombed all the places. I came back on a hospital ship. [I gain strength from] just knowing that I’m in good health, and that I have a good place to live. I have a good family. I think at my age I’m very fortunate. I’m eighty-eight years old.
This girl wrote to me and said thank you for my service. A little girl from Texas. Wrote a real nice letter. So I wrote back to her, sent her a few of my pictures. Sent her a picture of me when I was in the service. Well, I wouldn’t want her to see me now! [laughs]
Is there anywhere else in the world you would like to visit?
I’d really like to go to Africa. I’d like to roam the safari. Have you heard about the Bucket List? Well, I have a bucket list. I got to do two things. I didn’t get to go on a safari, because, well [laughs] I just couldn’t afford that. But my sister and her granddaughter took me to the Wilds. Up in the eastern part of the state, and I did go up there, so I’ve been on a safari.
But I would like to meet the President. Yes, I would. I would like to shake his hand. The reason is, when I was growing up in Kent, Ohio, I had a really dear friend. Her name was Rosalie Peoples. She was a black girl. Well, those people, they didn’t live down where I lived. They lived down at the other end of the town. And do you know, it never dawned on me, in all my years, to be prejudiced. And I thought a lot of Rosalie. Some people didn’t. But I have never been that way, never. Yesterday, I’m sitting here [motions to her chair] and a black friend of mine came to the door. She came here ahead of my one sister. She came to see me. She said “I had a hard time trying to find this place, but I found it.” But I just admire the man, for trying what he did, and doing what he did. I didn’t think it would ever happen in this country. I didn’t think it would. I just don’t think that they’re giving him time to do what he wants to do. They’re just fighting him all the time, and that’s not right.
When you think of being an American, of being from America, what do you think that means?
Well, it just means freedom. And I have great respect for my flag. I put flags on the cemetery in town for the veterans, from when I was sixteen years old, and this is going to be my last year, I mean, I’m not going to put them on this year. It’s going to be seventy-three years. The two and a half years while I was in the service, I didn’t do it. My grandchildren help me now, but there was a conflict with somebody, so we gave it up. But I’ve always had great respect for our flag. When I see it hanging wrong, I tell them about it.
I would like for you to feel proud that you are an American. Because if you have to go somewhere else in the world to live, you will not have the opportunities that you have in this country. I’ve seen too much of the strife, and poor people, and things like that that I just I can’t imagine. And we have a wonderful country. We should be proud of it. That’s the way I feel.