Patton bridge dedicated to veteran killed in Vietnam

Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec / Family members of Martin Joseph Davis, who was killed in Vietnam in 1968, pull an American flag away from the signage for the bridge named for Davis on Saturday morning in Patton.

PATTON — When residents and visitors enter Patton, they cross the Martin Joseph Davis Memorial Bridge, formerly

the Route 36 Bridge over Chest Creek.

The local bridge into town was dedicated Saturday to Davis, a Vietnam veteran and Patton native who was killed in the war at age 20. State Rep. Frank Burns, D-Johnstown, took on the monthslong legislative process to dedicate the bridge.

Born on Aug. 25, 1947, Davis graduated from Cambria Heights High School in 1966.

He entered the Army on Nov. 14, 1967, and served as a specialist 4th class with B Company, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry, 196th Infantry Brigade. He died during hostile action in Quang Tin province, South Vietnam, on Aug. 2, 1968.

Davis’ brothers, Charles and Patrick, spoke of their brother in front of a crowd of about 80 people who gathered at the bridge Saturday morning.

Patrick was closer in age to Martin.

The two shared a room as children, the same taste in cars and girls as they grew older, and they even had chickenpox together. And they both served in the Vietnam War.

Patrick supported the troops on the ground in Vietnam from Thailand.

“We both took R&R in Bangkok. It was the best week of our lives,” he said.

Not long after they returned to duty, Patrick received word that Martin was killed.

“I was asked if I would escort the body home. It was the worst day of my life,” he said.

Martin flew with his brother’s casket to Dover, Del., where military deaths are processed, then took the train from Philadelphia to Altoona.

During a late-night train change in Philadelphia, something happened that Patrick will never forget, he said.

The train’s conductor came over and looked at the casket and asked, “Y’all kin?’ Patrick responded, “He’s my brother.” The conductor then hugged Patrick and put a hand on the casket and prayed.

“I’ll never forget that as long as I live,” Patrick said.

When his father picked him up in Altoona, there was no speaking, he said.

Vietnam veterans, unlike veterans of other wars including World War II, weren’t given parades when they returned home. They were vilified to no fault of their own, Charles said.

“For many years, I struggled,” Charles said. “Martin and other Vietnam veterans were not held in the same esteem as World War II veterans. Was Martin simply collateral of government action that never should have been involved in? As I matured, I came to the answer: His heroism didn’t lay in the failed war. It lay in his service to the country. It wasn’t his job to determine whether the war was right or wrong.”

On Saturday, the family of Martin Joseph Davis unveiled the sign for the bridge.

“This is a day our family will never forget. Thank you for honoring him,” Patrick said.

Rep. Judy Ward, R-Hollidaysburg, a cousin of the Davises, also spoke.

“He was 12 years older than me … I vaguely remember him, but I remember the day he died. I was 9 years old. I never saw my mother cry like that,” Ward said. “(He) blessed their lineage with a deep and strong faith. We know we will see Martin again; he is with our Lord, and we will be able to thank him. He gave his life for the freedoms we enjoy.”

Burns expanded the honor to all military families who know the reality of losing one of its members in war.

Like the Davis family, “Too many families faced that tragic reality first hand,” Burns said.

“We are blessed to have men and women fighting for our country. It is important to give thanks to the families of soldiers … I can’t think of a better dedication for the people of Patton than this bridge right here.”

The honor guard at the ceremony included representatives from:

– Fox-Peale American Legion Post 506, Carrolltown.

– Walter McCoy American Legion Post 614, Patton.

– John White Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 779, Patton.

– John Lipple Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4315, Ashville.

– Patrick D. Riordan Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1586, Hastings.

– Ream Miller Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7783, St. Benedict.