A Young Soldier Finds Comfort In An Unexpected Delivery

Apr 7, 2018
Originally published on April 7, 2018 4:49 pm

StoryCorps' Military Voices Initiative records stories from members of the U.S. military and their families.

Good things come in small packages — it's a proverbial truth that, for one veteran, holds up even in the middle of war.

At 20 years old, Pfc. Roman Coley Davis found himself 7,000 miles from home. Born in Douglas, Ga., he'd joined the military after high school, and was now living in one of the most remote U.S. outposts in Afghanistan.

In an interview at StoryCorps, Davis, now 32, tells his friend Dan Marek, 40, about a special delivery from home that brought him immense comfort as a young soldier in the throes of conflict.

At the time, Davis was serving in the U.S. Army as a human intelligence collector stationed in the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan.

"We were essentially in a black zone," he tells Marek. "If you walk outside of the wire, there's almost a 100 percent chance that someone's dying or coming back wounded — if you come back."

During what turned into almost a year-and-a-half span, Davis says his team was dealt the crucial task of tracking high-profile targets, including Osama Bin Laden. "We were involuntarily extended," he says. "I remember during that time being incredibly homesick and just lost, if you will, in the middle of a war."

In between the dispiriting stretches of days, he recalls a moment of respite. A Black Hawk helicopter flew into the valley, and dropped off bright yellow U.S. Mail bags. Soon after, a sergeant called out Davis' nickname: "Peaches, come up here, you got some mail."

"I wasn't expecting mail," Davis says. But the radio call sign, "Peaches," belonged to none other than the south Georgia native.

It was a package from home. He dug into it, like buried treasure. "It was this big, huge thing wrapped in aluminum foil," he says. "I take off this layer of aluminum foil, and there's more aluminum foil, and like 30 layers of foil and plastic wrap, and this, that and the other."

His "Mema," what Davis calls his grandmother, had baked him a sour cream pound cake. "I've seen my Mema bake this for people whose mothers have died. It's something that she takes to those who grieve," he says.

"And then here I am, and I'm in a foreign country, in a hostile environment, and that same pound cake is now sitting in front of me."

So he pulled out a Ka-Bar combat knife and cut it into a dozen large chunks in front of his 12-man team. Everyone got a slice.

"I ate mine first — and I cried," he says. Davis felt overwhelmed. "I think that if we had dined in her kitchen the moment that it cooled and she took the towels off of it, it could not have been as fresh as it was there on that mountainside."

He continues, "And, for that one moment, I felt loved, even though I was lonely. The pound cake was clean, even though I was so dirty. It was cold, and that pound cake warmed me."

"It was just like Mema was there."

When Davis returned to the U.S. from Afghanistan, he used his GI Bill to attend culinary school. But, he says, he still can't quite make that sour cream pound cake as well as his Mema.


Audio produced for Weekend Edition by Aisha Turner.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

Time now for StoryCorps' Military Voices Initiative, recording the stories of veterans and their families. Private 1st Class Roman Coley Davis was born in Douglas, Ga. He joined the military after high school. By the time he was 20 years old, Roman found himself 7,000 miles away from home in one of the most remote U.S. outposts in Afghanistan. Roman talked to his friend Dan Marek at StoryCorps.

ROMAN COLEY DAVIS: I served in the United States Army as a human intelligence collector in the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan. We were essentially in a black zone. If you walk outside of the wire, there's almost a 100 percent chance of someone's dying or coming back wounded if you come back. We were tracking Osama bin Laden and people like that - high-valued targets - for almost a year and a half. And we were involuntarily extended. I remember during that time at one point being incredibly homesick and just lost, if you will, in the middle of a war. And one day, a Blackhawk helicopter flies into the valley. And they kick off bright yellow U.S. mailbags. And a sergeant called my name - Peaches. I was the only one from South Georgia. So my radio call sign was Peaches. And they said, Peaches, come up here. You got some mail. And I wasn't expecting mail. And it was this box from home. And I cut it open. And there was this big, huge thing wrapped in aluminum foil. And so I'd take off this layer of aluminum foil. And then there's more aluminum foil and, like, 30 layers of foil and plastic wrap and this, that and the other. And my memaw (ph) had baked this homemade sour cream pound cake. And I've seen my memaw bake this for people whose mothers have died. It's something that she takes to those who grieve. And then here I am. And I'm in a foreign country in a hostile environment. And that same pound cake is now sitting in front of me. And my 12-man team is there. And I pulled out a KA-BAR combat knife. And I hack into this thing. And I cut it into, like, 12 massive chunks. And I ate mine first. And I cried. And everyone got a chunk. And I think that if we had dined in her kitchen the moment that it cooled and she took the towels off of it, it could not have been as fresh as it was there on that mountainside. And for that one moment, I felt loved even though I was lonely. The pound cake was clean even though I was so dirty. It was cold. And that pound cake warmed me. It was just like memaw was there.

(SOUNDBITE OF ENDING SATELLITES' "WE'RE FROM NEAR AND FAR")

DETROW: That was Roman Coley Davis for StoryCorps. When Roman returned from Afghanistan, he used his GI Bill to attend culinary school. But he says he still can't quite make that sour cream pound cake as well as his memaw. The full recording of Roman's interview will be archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. You can hear more stories from veterans on the StoryCorps podcast. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.