By Marine Corps Cpl. M.M. Bravo
Special to American Forces Press Service
June 24, 2009 - Sitting in the desert, a thousand miles from home, an infantryman with 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, thinks about his lifetime and all the songs he wrote. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Stephen D. Davis, deployed to Iraq's Anbar province and winner of a recent talent show here, started playing the guitar when his parents bought him his first one when he was 10 years old. After learning a few chords from his dad, he spent a lot of time listening and watching others play, learning as he went.
He wrote his first song -- about his grandfather -- when he was 11 years old.
"My grandpa and my great grandpa were both in the Army, and my great grandpa was in World War II," Davis said. "He never really talked about this stuff all that much, but my grandpa was in the Army during the Cold War, and he used to always tell me he never did anything, but he would always talk about the sacrifice people put out for their country."
Davis, the eldest of seven children in his family, said most of his songs are patriotic and have been inspired by war veterans he's met and the stories they tell him.
"For some reason, I can talk to old people better than I can young people," he said. "It's almost like they're drawn to me for some reason. I like talking to them; I like hearing their stories and how stuff used to be compared to now.
"Most veterans come up and talk to me after they hear my songs," he continued. "They say they think it's a little weird, because all the songs I wrote, I wrote before I ever joined. And they think it's pretty cool that somebody who's never done anything wrote a song like that, and they all told me that I pretty much hit the way they feel about things right on the head -- like I'd actually been there or something."
Recalling the first patriotic song he wrote, Davis told the story of a youth conference he attended, held by Tim Lee, a former sergeant in the Marine Corps, who lost both of his legs in combat.
"They were out on patrol," he said. "One of his buddies was up in front of the patrol, and for some reason, [Lee] said he felt that he needed to be at the front of the patrol. So he told his buddy to get back, and he took point. Probably 10 minutes after that, he walked into a minefield, and he stepped on a mine and lost both his legs."
Davis said he met a homeless Vietnam veteran that same day who told him about the war and all the things that went on there that caused mental problems for him. When the man came home from war, the veteran told Davis, his family and friends disowned him.
"I just had that in the back of my head, and when I got back from the youth conference I was playing my guitar and just wrote down how [the veterans] made me feel, telling me their stories -- how I could see how they felt about all that.
"They're just people doing their jobs; some of them volunteered, some of them didn't," he continued. "They were just doing what they had to do, doing what they were told to do. And they get home and people hated them for it, and they really had no control over it at all."
Davis said his family always has been patriotic and had taught him that what America has is not free -- people had to pay for it.
"It's because of veterans who fought for our freedoms [that] we have all those rights," he said.
Davis said he joined the Marine Corps to give back to his country and to continue the legacy of all the men and women who fought before him.
"To me, people don't realize why we get to live as we do as Americans, so that's why I did it," he said.
At Marine Corps boot camp, Davis met Lance Cpl. Jeffery A. Cook. The two Marines formed a strong friendship throughout their training.
"It wasn't until [infantry school] that he and I became such good friends," said Cook, a machine gunner. "We were in the same platoon, ... and he just happened to have the rack right next to mine. We became closer, and after a few weeks we realized we had a lot more in common than we thought. Stephen is probably one of the most loyal friends I have. We were like brothers, and we were daily made fun of for always being by each other's side."
Both of them raised in the country, and enjoying country music comes with the territory, they said. Cook said he and Davis used to sing together, but that he didn't know how great a guitar player Davis was until they got to their first duty station.
"At boot camp and [infantry school], we would pass the time as best we could by singing every country song we knew," Cook said. "When we ran out of songs, we just made up new ones. I knew early on that he was an extremely talented singer, so when we got to the fleet and I heard him play the guitar, it wasn't much of a surprise. ... When he sings or plays, it makes you feel like you have something to live for. He's definitely an inspirational writer."
With different military occupational specialties and being in different platoons, the friends aren't together as much as they used to be, but they stay in touch as best they can.
"We still do our best to watch each other's backs, and I know if I ever need anything he is the first person I go to," Cook said. "I'm sure he feels the same way about me."
(Marine Corps Cpl. M.M. Bravo serves with the 2nd Marine Logistics Group.)