Murder in Baker Company: How Four American Soldiers Killed One of Their Ownby Cilla McCain
Using court transcripts, personal interviews, and police records to retrace the key events of the case, this journey to uncover the truth about what happened to Richard Davis provides a disturbing, eye-opening look into the problems of today's military. After surviving tours in Bosnia and Iraq, Davis was mercilessly tortured and ultimately murdered/i>
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Using court transcripts, personal interviews, and police records to retrace the key events of the case, this journey to uncover the truth about what happened to Richard Davis provides a disturbing, eye-opening look into the problems of today's military. After surviving tours in Bosnia and Iraq, Davis was mercilessly tortured and ultimately murdered before his remains were set on fire in the woods of Georgia. Four members of his own platoon were arrested for the crime. When one was asked why they set Richard on fire, his answer was both cold and revealing: "Because that's the way we got rid of bodies in Iraq." There is no other case on record in which American soldiers have killed one of their own in such a twisted manner. They were home. They were alive. So the only question is, why? This is not only the exploration of the heinous murder of a soldier; it is also a call to action for U.S. citizens to provide support and necessary programs for veteran reentry and reassimilation into U.S. society.
"This work has been created with an insightful heart and an activist's drive. Cilla's writing denotes a deep sense of personal responsibility for the veterans of the Iraq War and it is from this platform that she advocates and encourages the reader to feel the same." Paul Haggis, writer/director, Crash, In the Valley of Elah, Million Dollar Baby, and Quantum of Solace
"With eloquence, determination, and passion, Cilla McCain has dared to tell the world a story that must be told, a story that the powerful do not want to be told and that the prosecution and defense withheld from the jury." Mark Shelnutt, criminal defense attorney
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Murder in Baker Company
How Four American Soldiers Killed One of Their Own
By Cilla McCain
Chicago Review Press IncorporatedCopyright © 2010 Cilla McCain
All rights reserved.
A Father and Son
What could I do but go with them, or work for them and my country? The patriot blood of my father was warm in my veins.
— Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross
"It's strange," Lanny began, "when something horrible happens in your life and you are able to look back and see that little signs were popping up the whole way, providing clues that you should brace yourself. I suppose some people would call it ESP or something like that. But at the time, you just barely pay attention, and file it away somewhere in the back of your mind. I'm bringing it up now because I keep remembering this one particular night that would have been during the days when Richard came back from Iraq in the summer of 2003. Of course, at the time we did not know yet that his platoon had already returned to the States. We also did not know that he had disappeared almost as fast as his plane landed.
"Anyway, like usual, I was sitting in the living room watching late-night television and trying to glean out any bit of news I could on my son's platoon. Except for the light coming from the television screen, the house was dark and quiet, almost to the point of being serene. My wife was already asleep in bed, and I was alone. Well, somehow this black moth made its way into the house and landed on the lamp table next to my chair. I don't know how it got in, either, because it was hot outside and we were running the air-conditioning, so the windows and doors were shut up tight. I'll tell ya, this was the biggest, most unusual moth I had ever seen — very black and shiny, like satin. In fact, it was so healthy looking — yeah, healthy, that's the way I'd describe it — that instead of killing it with the newspaper, I studied it for a little bit before I waved it out the front door.
"You see, that night stands out in my mind because in the Filipino culture — my wife's Filipino — there is what I guess you would call an old wives' tale which claims if a black moth flies into your house, that means somebody you know has just died. I'd heard tales like that before, hell, we all have. However, I've never put too much stock in 'em. Then the next day the telephone rang around 9:00 or 10:00 a.m. and my wife answered. We had been receiving many calls from telemarketers, up to twenty a day sometimes. So when she answered, she was irritated at having to deal with yet another one. There was a woman's voice on the other end of the line and she asked, 'Is this Remidios Davis?'
"'Yes it is,' my wife told her.
"'It's about Richard. Are you his mother?' the woman asked.
"'Yes, what do you want?' my wife asked.
"The caller stammered around, and then it sounded as though the line went dead — so she hung up the receiver.
"Looking back, we have often wondered if that was really someone trying to tell us what had happened to our Richard. It was during the same period of time Richard was murdered, when the black moth showed up and that woman called us. But it is just one more question that we will probably never have the answer to. You see, all I want are answers, no matter what those answers happen to be. Why was my son tortured as he begged for his life, begged to come home and see his family? Why on earth did members of his own platoon do that?
"These boys were trained to be willing to put their lives on the line for each other. Richard was willing, that I know. He was so full of life, our son; he had the world in front of him. Because of those bastards, we will never get to see his face again. We will never see him get married and have children. We will never see him come home from that damned war. The thing is, I started screaming inside the minute I found out Richard was dead. And I have not stopped yet. We just want to feel the relief of knowing why."
* * *
The answer to his question is that many different sets of circumstances all collided at once.
On May 20, 2003, Army Specialist Richard Thomas Davis, a member of the historically revered 1-15th Third Infantry Division of Fort Benning's Baker Company, waited in line for more than two hours to call his parents, Lanny and Remy, from Iraq. As soon as Richard heard his father's voice on the line, he began to beg frantically for help in "getting out of here." There were tears in his voice.
The incident perplexed his father, but, being retired career military himself, he considered the episode part of the inevitable stress that every wartime soldier confronts at some point. Knowing how patriotic Richard was, he knew he would have never forgiven himself for giving in during a moment of weakness, so Lanny told his son he could not do that. The conversation went on for more than an hour, as Richard relayed to his dad the hardships his platoon was enduring.
"Dad," Richard cried, "I can't trust anybody here. I don't have a safe place to lay my head, and we don't even have enough to eat or drink!" Richard's frustrations and fears came tumbling desperately out. Lanny learned that Richard's boots had caught on fire, burning the laces away and melting the soles. He walked around with the boots falling off his feet until he managed to get a pair of laces from the boots of a dead Iraqi. Those laces were in bad shape and too short, but he tied them in a knot and kept going. He lost other essential supplies when a nearby explosion caused his rucksack to fall off the back of a truck, leaving him with nothing.
"Dad, we're not getting needed supplies, there's some kind of holdup with the government contracts or something. The water is nasty, and something is wrong with my insides — I keep bleeding when I piss and blood is coming from my rectum. They can't figure out what's wrong with me."
Lanny was disturbed by his son's circumstances, especially the unexplained bleeding. Richard also told him that his platoon sergeant wasn't checking on the unit, a duty taken very seriously in the army. Troops are placed strategically in the battle zones, and it is the platoon sergeant's responsibility to continually monitor their situation.
"I calmly listened, and tried to convince my son to mentally work through it, but inside I was panicking, because the situation sounded out of control," Lanny says.
Richard's platoon had experienced the bloodiest fighting imaginable. In fact, during the invasion, Richard and the rest of Baker Company, nowadays referred to as Bravo Company, had taken part in what eventually became known as the Midtown Massacre in April 2003, informally named so by some of the troops after a famous gangland killing in New York City.
They were under orders to annihilate. That means if it moves, you kill it. The situation was very different from the propaganda on the nightly news, in which the government tried to convince the American people that missions in Iraq were being carried out with great precision, control, and the fewest number of civilian casualties possible.
Indeed, Richard's unit did not suffer any losses, but many soldiers have stated that hundreds of burned and mutilated Iraqi bodies piled the streets of Baghdad. However, it would be months, in some cases years, before the brutal effects the Midtown Massacre had on American troops revealed themselves. Some wounds are simply too deep to see with the naked eye.
"Before Richard was deployed," Lanny relates, "I told him I wanted to use the old Sullivan Law to keep him out of combat situations. As our family's only son, we could have done that. But Richard steadfastly refused."
* * *
After Richard's phone call, Lanny decided to contact the Red Cross about his son's circumstances. He was told Richard's unit was due to come back to the United States within a week or two. "I should have gotten him out of there," Lanny says dejectedly. "I had no idea what he was really up against."
Today, Lanny overlooks the fact that even had he tried to get Richard out of battle by using the so-called Sullivan Act, it would not have been possible. This law has long been misunderstood as a method to keep only sons out of battlefield situations, thus protecting a family's ability to carry on their name and lineage. Although the law was proposed after the deaths of the five Sullivan brothers in World War II, it was never passed by Congress. But even with the discovery of this misunderstanding, Lanny has been left with the permanent question in his mind What if?and painful, undeserved feelings of guilt.
* * *
Unfortunately, the Red Cross information turned out to be incorrect. Every time the troops prepared to come home, the expected orders to do so were never issued. Baker Company had completed its mission and had passed its equipment to the incoming troops taking their place. But the official orders to come home to the States kept being delayed. Nearly four thousand troops occupied a six-mile radius of the Iraq desert waiting for those orders. The wait lasted nearly six weeks, time the soldiers described as being held in purgatory.
Soon the news media began reporting that American soldiers did not have the supplies they needed to protect themselves, confirming Richard's account of the dire circumstances facing the troops. Saddam Hussein's airport had been taken by American forces and was considered secure. However, vital lifesaving equipment, such as bulletproof jackets, had to be purchased by soldiers' families out of personal funds and sent to the war zone. "Why couldn't they get supplies?" Lanny wondered. "My God, they were at the airport! Drops could have been made." Those media reports seemed to last for about ten days, then suddenly went silent.
And things got stranger. The telephone company MCI was awarded a government contract to provide long-distance service for military men and women wanting to call home to their families in the United States. In Iraq, mobile units were placed in safe zones and contained fifteen to twenty telephones each. Calls were patched through from the Middle East to an air base in the United States at no charge to the family. From there, the calls were connected to the soldiers' families. The families paid only for the domestic charges, not the international charges from the Middle East.
One morning, about a week after Richard's last call on May 20, 2003, Lanny received a letter in the mail from MCI, dated May 23, 2003. It stated that their long-distance service was being disconnected due to "unusual activity." Lanny's long-distance service was through AT&T, but it was MCI the soldiers had to use to call home. Lanny had no way of calling Richard, and he did not know what Richard was being told as to why he could no longer call home using MCI. Lanny called MCI and was passed from one representative to another. Finally he was told his service was disconnected for nonpayment. But he didn't have a past due balance. MCI promised to remove the block, but it took the company weeks to do so.
Nevertheless, Richard managed to call once more. His parents assume he must have borrowed a cell phone from one of the incoming reservists. When Remy answered the call, she told Lanny she could hear Richard yelling over the static, "Mom! Mom! Mom!" before the line went dead. The overseas connections could be bad at times. They hoped he would be able to try again and get a better connection, but they never heard his voice again.
About two months went by with no word from Richard. Then, on July 16, 2003, the Davis phone rang. Lanny moved quickly to answer. "Mr. Davis," the caller said, "this is Sergeant Reginald Colter with the Third Infantry Division in Fort Benning, Georgia. Is your son Richard there?"
"No," Lanny replied. "No, he's not. He's at Baghdad Airport."
"Well, no, sir, not anymore. Our unit returned to the States on July 12, and Richard never showed up to formation. He's now listed as AWOL."
"That's not possible," Lanny said. "I know my son. He wouldn't do that — something must be wrong."
"All we know is that he's not here," Colter snapped. "If he shows up there, please have him contact us, and we will do the same on this end."
Strange as it sounds, Lanny knew immediately that Richard was dead. The feeling came up from the pit of his stomach. And with that one telephone call, Lanny's life took a path that would be part of his existence forevermore: searching for answers. As he waited to hear from or about Richard, the tension he felt became unbearable. Neither he nor his wife could sleep or eat; each of them lost about thirty pounds. Life grew more excruciating as the weeks turned into months.
"Your mind wanders to all sorts of things at a time like that," Lanny laments. "We must have pondered every detail of his life during those weeks and months of not knowing where he was."
* * *
Growing up for the most part in St. Charles, Missouri, Richard Davis was constantly bullied due to his small stature and Asian features. His mother, Filipino American Remidios Ong, or Remy as she is lovingly called, was a medic in the U.S. Army when she met and married military policeman Lanny Davis, a career officer and Vietnam veteran. The two went on to build a life together in St. Charles, and soon their children, Richard and Lisa, were born. Richard adored his mother and would tell anyone who listened that he wanted to marry a girl just like his mom. He also grew especially close to his father, Lanny, whom he viewed as a great hero due to his service in the army and the survival techniques Lanny passed on to him. "I taught him to always survey his surroundings and think about how to turn what you have into what you need," Lanny says.
His father represented everything Richard wanted to become. Maybe the special closeness between father and son sprang from the fact that Richard's sister, Lisa, was born with Down syndrome and required more care and attention from their mother. Maybe it was due to his need to prove that he was just as American as the school bullies who tormented him. Maybe it was both. Regardless, Richard Davis was destined and determined to be an American soldier.
Lanny's days are filled with reminiscing about their time with Richard. "The last time we spent with our son was before the Christmas season 2002," he says. "Remy and I decided to celebrate early so we could share it with him, and I'll never forget it. Remy told him to be careful, to do whatever he had to do in order to make it home alive. 'I couldn't take it if you were killed, Richard,' she told him. Richard said, 'Aw, Mom, if something does happen to me, you still have Lisa, so don't think that way.' That was our son; he never wanted us to worry."
Along with his gung-ho attitude toward the army, Richard also had an artistic side and frequently wrote poetry and drew. His creative abilities meshed well with his military aspirations. He could take any piece of discarded trash and make it somehow useful. He even rigged a shower nozzle out of buckets and hoses he found in Iraq. It was so popular in his platoon that soldiers would wait in line two or more hours to take a quick, cold shower.
He was, in effect, a real-life MacGyver. His skills and resourcefulness endeared him to many of his fellow soldiers, but others were annoyed, even angered, by him. Whether it was jealousy or just mean-spiritedness, these guys could never find one good comment to make about Richard, even in interviews four years after his murder. Sadly, Richard tried hardest to fit in with people he couldn't please. It was a trait he developed as a boy when he desperately wanted to appease and befriend the school bullies.
"I didn't teach him so much about the horrors of war, as much as I taught him all I had learned on how to survive and make it home alive," Lanny states. "Maybe I should have told him more about the killings."
One of ten children and growing up dirt poor in the Ozarks, Lanny learned early on how to survive with next to nothing. Once he joined the army, this ability to adapt to any situation served him well. Standing six feet tall, Lanny is the kind of man who is not afraid to look a person right in the eye when he speaks. Like all soldiers, he was trained to kill, but he is still a polite man with a natural air of gentleness. He speaks with a deep, raspy voice due to an attack by a Vietcong soldier. The soldier rammed the butt of his rifle into Lanny's throat. In defense, Lanny shot the soldier at point-blank range. To this day, despite the permanent damage to his vocal cords, he is concerned that people will view him as a coldhearted killer because of this incident.
It is this responsible attitude that he strived to instill in his son: only fight when you have to, but if the need does arise, be on your feet and ready to go.
Excerpted from Murder in Baker Company by Cilla McCain. Copyright © 2010 Cilla McCain. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Cilla McCain is a writer focusing on social justice issues who grew up near various army bases until her family settled outside Fort Benning, Georgia.
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