Portland Community Colleges 4th Annual Veteran’s Ball

I had a blast last night talking to the veterans of PCC and PSU. I made some great new friends and we had a great time. It was really an honor to be asked to MC their event and it was fantastic to see so many veterans moving forward with their lives and working for a better future. Here are some photographs of the night and at the bottom I’ll put a copy of my speeches even though they were really just a jumping off point. I covered most of what I wanted to cover and just had an open dialogue with some amazing veterans.

There were two themes of the night: the tenacity of the veteran and the recovery of disabled veterans. Here’s how I opened:

“When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.”

Abraham Lincoln


My name is Sean Davis. I was a private first class in 95’ when my infantry company out of Schofield, Hawaii, was deployed to Haiti during their revolution. I led a squad of men in Iraq as a staff sergeant until I was critically injured in an ambush a little north of Taji. It took almost a year for me to heal up from my injuries, but when I did I volunteered to go down to Hurricane Katrina cleanup this time as a platoon sergeant. I wrote a book about all that called The Wax Bullet War. A big part of that book was how hard it was for me after getting out of the military. I know that once we get out, especially combat veterans, sometimes we lose our identity, we feel separated from society, and sometimes we can’t shake some of the worst moments we experienced. This is why I am so incredibly honored to be here speaking to you, because I know all the difficulties you faced just to be sitting here. I faced them too and honestly, I almost didn’t make it through, but we are tenacious.

The men and women who choose to join the military, any branch, we are tenacious and I don’t believe it’s something we learn in basic training. I’m sure that quality is strengthened by training, but we not only make it through all the muscle failure, all the verbal and maybe even physical abuse, all those suck moments that we somehow learn to love with the distance of time and memory, because of our innate tenacity. All of us here had to overcome challenges that ninety percent of our country’s population does not understand, cannot understand, but here you are. This should be celebrated, and I’m honored to be a part of this celebration. Thank you so much. Let’s give you all a round of applause.

P1010944Then somewhere in the second half I told the only joke I really know:

Sorry, I forgot to open with a joke. They say you’re supposed to open with a joke. Here goes, one my grandpa used to tell me: There’s a bear and a rabbit out in the woods. They both go to the designated spot for, you know, the woodland animals to do their business. So they’re both there squatted down, doing their business, and the bear turns to the rabbit and asks, Hey, do you have a problem with shit sticking to your fur? The rabbit laughs a little bit and then answers, No, not at all. So the bear grabs the rabbit and wipes his ass with him.

I think there’s a lesson in there somewhere Grandpa was trying to teach me something. I haven’t figured it out yet, but let’s move on…

P1010942Then I closed with this:

I spoke about tenacity earlier. I think it’s a great theme. The other part of tonight’s theme is the recovery of our disabled veterans. Well, I know that none of us injured in the war, physically or otherwise, would every call ourselves disabled. When I was hit, the entire right side of my body was broken, my head, my ribs, my arm in two places, my knee, my leg, and look at me, I’m standing right here. I’ve spoken to single and double amputees that are the most inspiring people I’ve ever met. The physical injuries of war are very difficult to overcome and those of us who do it are an inspiration, but scars you don’t see are just as difficult and many times overcoming them are over looked. The stats on the VA website say that about 25 percent of veterans will have some issues with how the war changed them. They call it PTSD, but I hate that term. You know the drill, when you come back and have anger issues: PTSD, can’t sleep at night: PTSD, emotionally detached: PTSD, irritable bowl syndrome: PTSD. I believe we’re doing our best and brightest a disservice by lumping all these problems under one heartless acronym. Anyway, the VA says one fourth of the veterans coming back from war will have difficulty with how the war changed them. I don’t believe those numbers. I’ve been traveling around the country with my book and speaking to combat veterans from as far back as WWII all the way to Afghanistan, and that number is much higher, especially the combat veterans, and I’m not talking combat arms MOS, I’m talking about the men and women who were in or around the bullets and mortars flying. My point is that all of you sitting here that had difficulty transitioning back to civilian life, you have overcome, you’ve succeeded, and again this should be celebrated. You should be proud of the fact that you are sitting here right now. You made it. You’re friends and family are proud I’m sure, but again, they don’t know how incredibly hard it was for you to get to this point. I do, and to be in a room, or on a boat with men and women like you is an incredible inspiration. One last round of applause.


Thank you for having me here to share in the celebration. For the rest of the night go ahead and wander around, dance on the deck, lie and tell the captain that you were a “Coastie”, but most of all enjoy this moment and realize it is a major accomplishment. Thank you.

By Sean Davis

Sean Davis is the author of The Wax Bullet War, a Purple Heart Iraq War veteran, and the winner of the Legionnaire of the Year Award from the American Legion in 2015 and the recipient of the Emily Gottfried Emerging Leader, Human Rights award for 2016. His stories, essays, and articles have appeared in the the Ted Talk Book The Misfit’s Manifesto (Simon and Schuster), Forest Avenue Press anthology City of Weird, Sixty Minutes, Story Corps, Flaunt Magazine, The Big Smoke, Human the movie, and much more.

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