Here’s the deal. When you pick up a book, do you expect to read all of it? If not, why not? That is the dilemma posed by Retired Army Col. Tom Davis in The Most Fun I Ever Had with My Clothes On: A March from Private to Colonel (Old Mountain Press, 328 pp., $20.00, paper).
This good-natured memoir, which covers Davis’ thirty-plus years in the U.S. Army, resembles a course in the many macho career fields available to soldiers. Davis says that only his three closest loved ones “will read this epic from cover to cover.” He tells the rest of us, “You don’t have to, ” and suggests that we “peruse the table of contents and pick and chose what most tickles [our] fancy.”
I called his bet, read every page, and found a lot to like—along with bits of repetition and predictability. Davis devotes most of the book to his years as a lieutenant and captain in jobs that prepared him for his climb up the leadership ladder.
Davis used the Army training system to his advantage by taking as many courses as possible. A newlywed with a low draft number, he forestalled being sent to Vietnam by enlisting, earning a commission through OCS, then completing parachute and Special Forces training, followed by failing Vietnamese language school. Hey, nobody’s perfect.
Eventually, Davis spent a relatively calm year in Vietnam. In his first four months during 1970, as a Special Forces lieutenant at Duc Hue, he led CIDG troops on Search and Destroy missions, which he called “Seek and Avoid.” They battled enemy forces only once. In Long Hai for his last eight months, he trained Cambodian civilians (ages twelve to sixty-four) to be soldiers.
A Special Forces trooper with CIDG forces
On his return from to the war zone, Davis helped to organize a Special Forces mountaineering team before mastering SCUBA techniques and moving on to the Infantry Officer Advanced Course and Ranger training. A short time later, he also qualified in HALO parachuting. He details these activities with greatest emphasis on SF SCUBA operations.
As a junior officer, Davis unhesitatingly called on his senior sergeants for guidance. In particular, he pays great respect to SFC Ronald Brockelman, his SCUBA Team Sergeant.
Ror twenty years Davis plied his many SF skills in England, Germany, Denmark, France, Korea, Zaire, Turkey, Tunis, Italy, Iraq, and Bosnia. His sense of duty was exemplary: He took virtually any assignment at a moment’s notice. Reading the entire book teaches you more than you ever expected to know about peacetime operations in his areas of expertise. A hundred-plus photographs emphasize the chapter highlights.
Davis explains the minutiae of running SF units at higher and higher command levels and details what he calls the Five Principles of Good Management— his Five Pillars of Command Philosophy—plus the acceptability of making exceptions to them when “downright necessary.” Hey, no plan is perfect.
Overboard about physical fitness, Davis cannot stop when he talks about participating in triathlons and marathons, along with other ever-more-clever-and-complex athletic competitions he devised. In this respect, his ego grows as big as the Ritz—and its annex. I ran distance races for several decades, but just reading those sections exhausted me.
Nevertheless, I greatly admire Tom Davis because he frequently used his leadership positions to challenge authority, mainly to question his superiors. A few of his stories project unwholesome pictures of pettiness within the U.S. military structure, based on (excuse the cliché) the father-knows-best attitude of senior officers. Davis often was a rebellious son. More power to him.
The author’s website is www.oldmp.com/davismemoirs