A local disabled veteran’s correspondence with President John F. Kennedy’s speechwriter, Theodore Sorensen, could be heading for the Kennedy Library in Boston.
Hinesville resident Sgt. Todd Davis began corresponding with Sorensen via email in April 2006 after reading Sorensen’s book, “Kennedy.” A former Marine who later joined the Army, Davis was stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas, at the time. In his first message, he told Sorensen that his book inspired him, saying it was more than a biography about a great man; it was a testament to leadership.
As a noncommissioned officer and Iraq-war veteran, Davis told Sorensen he owed the soldiers under him the best possible leadership, but said he didn’t see that level of leadership coming from President George W. Bush, whom he said should have a plan of action in Iraq and should be implementing that plan. He also said all leaders should be accountable for their decisions.
Sorensen responded by thanking Davis for his message and for his service, but also for his “astute perception of the current need for better planning, better decisions and more accountability.”
“I actually spoke by phone to (Sorensen) for the first time while I was stationed in Korea,” said Davis, who explained he was medically evacuated from Korea for a potentially fatal heart condition. “He asked me if I would write a report for him about the disability process. I had no idea what I wrote would be given to (then-Sen. Barack) Obama’s speechwriter. (Sorensen) and I maintained a friendship after that. He was very much an inspiration for me.”
An email message from Sorensen, dated March 29, 2007, thanked him for his “interesting report,” which he was passing on to a “potential campaign speechwriter.” Sorensen died Oct. 31, 2010.
A message to Davis dated Aug. 24, 2012, from Adam Frankel, member of President Barack Obama’s speechwriting team, confirmed receiving the report from Sorensen and that he and other Obama speechwriters had read it.
Davis said the report about his experience while assigned to a medical hold company at Eisenhower Army Medical Center at Fort Gordon, Ga., was intended to help prevent other soldiers from going through what he experienced as part of the Army’s medical review board process.
His report began by citing appalling conditions in the barracks at the company. He asked to be assigned responsibility for billet maintenance so he could ensure the barracks were brought up to a standard fitting a soldier.
While he reported some success in getting repairs to the barracks, he said he was amazed by low disability ratings given to soldiers with multiple bullet wounds and combat injuries.
He cited a sergeant with shrapnel in his back from an improvised explosive device getting a mere 10 percent disability rating and a private with stage IV Hodgkin’s lymphoma being returned to duty. He said some soldiers spent six months to two years waiting for a decision that would affect the rest of their lives.
His report noted a Feb. 27, 2007, article in the Army Times that said medical review boards were awarding low disability ratings to cut costs. The Army inspector general was investigating, the article said.
“Meanwhile, nothing has changed in our little corner of the Army,” Davis wrote. “Soldiers share a common bond of pride for serving our nation. I feel that we deserve better treatment than what we have been handed.”
Davis was given a medical discharge with severance pay later that year. He was awarded a 100 percent disability rating from the Department of Veterans Affairs earlier this year.
Davis said his email correspondence and phone conversations with Sorensen never discussed anything controversial, like Kennedy’s assassination.
They did, however, discuss racial issues prevalent during the Kennedy administration, he said.
He said he decided to donate his correspondence with Sorensen to the Kennedy Library, mostly because it was “just sitting there on my computer.” He said the library said it was interested in the correspondence, calling the correlation between Davis, Sorensen and Obama’s 2008 campaign significant.