NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Terence Powell is proud of his African American heritage, but when it comes to the military, he has reason to stick his chest out just a little more.
His stepfather, Nathaniel Davis, is one of 11 African American brothers from Alabama who collectively served 158 years in the U.S. military. The brothers recently made national news when an Associated Press reporter wrote a story about them.
“To be living among someone who has a story like that, makes you proud,” said Powell, a bank officer in Nashville.
Nathaniel was among seven of the 11 Davis brothers who gathered in mid-July at a hotel and casino in Tunica, Mississippi for a reunion, and to celebrate three July birthdays. Nathaniel was one of them; he turned 75.
A writer for Nashville Voice was also at the reunion, and spoke to the brothers, who laughed, and told stories from their days growing up and serving the country, and reminisced about what it was like to be black in the U.S. military in the 20th century in America.
Nathaniel recalled the behavior of a white woman when the bus he was on made a stop in Montgomery, Alabama.
“I was dressed in full uniform, and she refused to sit by me,” said Nathaniel, who served three years in the Army.
Sixteen siblings — the 11 veterans, plus three sisters and two brothers who did not enter the military — grew up on a 60-acre cotton farm in Wetumpka, Alabama. Their parents were Ben and Hattie Davis.
“Their moral and ethical values were pristine,” said Arguster, the youngest brother at 67 years old.
Military experience runs long in the Davis family. The brothers’ uncle, 99-year-old Master Sgt. Thomas Davis, is Alabama’s only known living Pearl Harbor survivor.
Ben Jr. was the first brother to enlist. He joined the Navy in 1944 during World War II, and went on to serve 33 years in the Navy and Army Reserves.
Arguster served in the Air Force for four years and then the Air Force Reserve until 1998.
Lebronze, who served 20 years in the Army, was one of four brothers who went to Vietnam. He saw the heaviest fighting of all the brothers.
During one particular mission in the Central Highlands of Vietnam, Lebronze was among 116 American soldiers who went into battle. Eighty were killed or wounded. Lebronze was among the 36 who survived without a scratch.
“I just believed I was going to make it out,” said Lebronze, 70. “I thank God I did.”
Edward, 89; Julius, 73; and Frederick, 68, also served in Vietnam. Edward spent 23 years in the Army and Air Force; Julius served 13 years in the Air Force; and Frederick served two years in the Army.
Washington, a six-year Army veteran, has passed away. Ben, Alphonza, who served 29 years in the Army, and Calvin, who did four years in the Navy, couldn’t attend the reunion.
All the brothers who did attend said they loved serving their country, and would do it over again if they could. They encourage high school graduates, who may not want to attend college right away, to consider the military.
“I advise going into the military for three reasons,” said 80-year-old Octavious Davis, who served two years in the Army. “First, you’ll have a job in the military. Second, you’ll learn something more than you would have if you hadn’t gone in; and third, you can go to school in the military and be anything you want to be.”
In 2017, the Davis men were honored by the National Infantry Museum Foundation. The names of the 11 brothers and their uncle are engraved on four paving stones installed at the museum.
Powell said he hopes there are many more stories about the Davis men.
“Their story needs to be heard,” he said.