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8 - Origin of the Silver Rose...

THE ORIGIN OF THE SILVER ROSE - Written by Mary Elizabeth Davis Marchand

On December 7, 1941, my father's first war began. It was also my mother's 21st birthday, but I don't think the two were related. Daddy was under-age and in a protected profession as a Virginia coal miner, but he went in the Navy anyway.

My father retired from active duty early in 1969, after service as a Chief Hospital Corpsman with the Third Marines in Chu Lai, Vietnam. His first tour there had been aboard the LSD, USS Point Defiance, but Chu Lai was enough for him. He moved his family to Virginia, which was his birthplace as well as mine, and registered with the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Salem, Virginia (VAMCS), where he had his yearly physical every August, and every other medical need he required for the rest of his life.

He finished his 30 years in the Navy Reserve and was Honorably Retired. Then came the VFW, the Fleet Reserve ... you name it, he joined it. Inevitably he was a Commander, a President, a Governor, or whatever High-Mucky-Muck ran all the vet's clubs. Be grateful Chief Davis wasn't a resident of St. Louis. He was Hell on Wheels, and I adored him.

Then came 1996. A healthy 75-year-old Chief showed a clean chest film, as usual, in August. That's when the time line for the nightmare began. November I - preparatory to roto-cup surgery on an arthritic shoulder, Chief Davis was administered another chest film. It showed a non-small-cell cancerous tumor the size of a grapefruit perched so high up on the superior vena cava that neither surgery nor chemotherapy was possible. Diagnosis: Terminal, 6 months to two years, if 33 radical radiation treatments began at once. They were.

November 27 - the US Navy telephoned Chief Davis and informed him that his cancer had been caused by exposure to Agent Orange in Chu Lai, Vietnam 27 years earlier, qualifying him for benefits under the 1991 Agent Orange Act (91AOA). I was notified in Utah by my brother, Frank, Jr., and something in me went white-hot. It wasn't the cancer so much. Seventy-five year old men get cancer, although Daddy's 97 year-old mother and her two brothers thought he was much too young for it. My family is very long lived. It was the speed of it, the certainty of it, the out-and-out smugness of the Navy. They hadn't moved that fast since Pearl Harbor. They know. They had known all along.

I was aware of the 91AOA, but unfamiliar with it, so this naive Lifer's brat wrote to her Senator, the Honorable Orrin Hatch, to apply for Daddy's Purple Heart. That was December 2, 1996, the day we now call the date that The Order of the Silver Rose was born.

It never occurred to me that, in creating such a landmark piece of legislation, the Congress of the United States would leave out the ONE THING these heroes needed the most ... their self-respect. I thought the Purple Heart would be automatic, and it would have pleased Daddy to think that his life had been lost in service to the nation he loved so well. God, was I naive!

His final radiation treatment was two weeks before Christmas. I went home to find my father half the weight he had been in July. My family clung desperately to the 2-year prognosis, but I could see with the new eyes of distance. The Chief signed 7 waiver's of the Privacy Act for me, one for the Commander in Chief, one for my Congressman and one for his, two for his Senators and two for mine, although he thought my quest hopeless.

January 7, 1997, Chief Frank Davis, his wife (my mother), and my grandmother, Ida Pearl Ketron Davis, qualified for pensions under the 91AOA.

The VA was great. They did their best for him. February 19, he "Crashed". I got on the red-eye for Virginia, although the doctors said I would never make it in time. Doctors don't know Davis's. We're stubborn. Brother Frankie's open arms awaited me at the end of the airport runway, saying, "He's waiting for you," while Brother Charlie must have crawled up that carousel for my bag, and ten minutes later I was in Daddy's room. That stubborn old salt had every marble he was born with, and he clung to life without a lung to breathe with or even a respirator.

I stayed three weeks with him, while the doctors stood agog, but the time came for me to return to my Utah home. The day before, my dear friend and jeweler Ginger Mumpower visited him with me. You can't take flowers to ICU, but Ginger solved THAT problem. From her store's silver display case, she removed a plastic rose coated with mylar silver ... a beautiful Silver Rose. The Chief was tickled to death. I can still see it. He held it up so that it twinkled in the early spring sunlight, and laughed out loud saying, 'The Order of the Silver Rose! I'd rather have this than all the Purple Hearts in the Pentagon!' I was aghast! After all my work!

But Daddy explained it. 'Ginger's a hundred times prettier than the Commander in Chief.' He had me on that one. He was seventy-five and dying, but he was a man and he was a sailor. I'll never forget how he laughed, how WE laughed that day. The next morning I went to see him before my plane left. The doctor said that he could last another six months. So I looked into his huge brown eyes and said good-bye, and he made me promise to bring my husband Jay back next time. I promised.

Back in Utah, I continued my fight. I hold the distinction of having been turned down by all of the very best people in Washington. On March 13, I filed my first DD149, in spite of all the people who had told me that a Purple Heart for Agent Orange was illegal. But beware the Ides of March. Sometime before 700 hours, Chief Davis answered his Pilot's call in his sleep. Five days, and I was on another red-eye, gripping Jay's hand for 2400 miles, so that I could brace myself for the sound of gunfire over the finest man I ever knew.

Three weeks later, Senator Hatch wrote to me and told me not to give up, that if Agent Orange vets were ever to receive the Purple Hearts they deserved, it would be because I didn't give up. I cried, and something twinkled through the mist of my tears. It was Daddy's Rose.

I tried so HARD. I hadn't asked for any benefits, I was willing to settle for the Agent Orange Act as it was. All I wanted was $7.50 worth of silk and brass to say that he had died for his country. Just a line on his DD 214 to show his great-grandchildren what a quiet hero is, that there is gallantry in healing the wounds of war, and in dying with a twinkle of silver and a tinkle of laughter.

He wasn't good enough for the Purple Heart, but he was good enough for a Silver Rose. So I made my own medal."

Mary Elizabeth Davis Marchand died April 15, 1999. Her death was devastating for me. Her ideas and recognition of our beloved Vietnam Vets, I felt, had to continue. I contacted her husband Prof. Jay Marchand in May 1999. Only through his total cooperation have I been able to continue Mary's "baby".

Jay generously mailed me all of Mary's Agent Orange materials and, as you note, also wrote me a beautiful letter giving my efforts his blessing. The Silver Rose lives and only with your support will it be able to recognize and honor our brother and sister Vietnam Veterans.

Gary J. Chenett, National Director


The Origin of The Silver Rose can be found on their website here.