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William Hugh Davis: 1948 - 2007 - Anti-war, union activist

By Patricia Trebe

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William Hugh Davis: 1948 - 2007
Anti-war, union activist

Oak Park resident and Vietnam veteran spent a lifetime on the frontline for the causes he embraced

By Patricia Trebe

Special to the Tribune

September 12, 2007

During the Vietnam War, William Hugh Davis knew it was inevitable that he would be drafted. And with a long line of family members who served in the military, there was almost no decision to be made on whether he would enlist.

Within the first few weeks of his service in the Air Force, however, Mr. Davis' perspective changed drastically.

"The first three weeks he was putting body bags into planes," said his wife, Joan. "He was just 18 years old, and it was a life-changing experience. He saw that we were not there for the right reasons. The people didn't want us there and very early on he became part of the underground network of activists and worked on an underground newspaper."

That activism remained with Mr. Davis throughout his life and propelled him to become a national coordinator of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, a group he joined while still in his four years of duty in the late 1960s.

"This was a voice of someone who you wanted on your side," said Barry Romo, also a national coordinator of the group that has 9,000 members. "He had a love of humanity. ... He saw Americans killed. He saw his own helicopters kill civilians. That was real to him."

Mr. Davis, 59, of Oak Park died of usual interstitial pneumonitis, a lung disease, Wednesday, Sept. 5, in University of Chicago Medical Center. .

Throughout the years, Mr. Davis was a voice against war. He became a spokesman for the group on national and local television news as well as a speaker at local high schools and colleges.

Mr. Davis was also a union leader while working as a mechanic at United Parcel Service in Addison. For years he was a union steward and then chief steward. Three years ago he was elected president of the 10,000-member International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, Automobile Mechanics Local 701.

"He [was] a stellar figure with this local for years," said Sam Cicinelli, business representative of the local.

"He moved it forward. He talked to people and educated them to let them know there are bigger and better things out there and this is what you need to do to get it.

"Everything he did he did to help the little guy get his voice heard by standing side by side with that person until justice was served. It may not have been 100 percent what [the other person] was looking for, but he never turned his back on any member of this organization," Cicinelli said.

Mr. Davis' success lay in looking at issues from both sides, former colleagues said.

"He always strived for balance and a happy medium for everyone," said Michael Galorath, supervisor in the automotive department at the Addison UPS hub.

Labor was a passion, said Terry Kimmel, the current union steward. "You never walked away thinking he didn't stick for you," Kimmel said.

Mr. Davis was born in Baltimore into a working-class family. After his parents divorced, he eventually went to live with his maternal grandparents in the hills of West Virginia.

After he graduated from high school, he enlisted in the Air Force. Upon his discharge he went to live with his mother in Akron, Ohio, and became more active in the anti-war movement that led him to move to Columbus and then Chicago. He met his wife in Chicago where she had come to protest the war as well. The couple married in 1978 and settled in Oak Park.

With his own unsettled childhood a bad memory, he set out to make his two children's home life idyllic and he succeeded, said his wife. But his son, Joshua, at the age of 18, was killed in an accident at college.

"It clearly devastated us, but as a result of that, all my son's friends have become our adopted children," said his wife.

Mr. Davis continued to be a voice against war and was one of the founders of Labor Against the War, a group protesting the Iraq war, and worked closely with Iraq Veterans Against the War, his wife said.

"But the other story about Bill is that I am a true football widow. He has had season tickets to the Bears since we were married," his wife said.

Mr. Davis retired in March but continued as president of the local. He also served as baseball coach, league director and board member of Oak Park Youth Baseball.

In addition to his wife and daughter Rebecca, other survivors include his father, Warren; a half-brother, Bo Davis; two half-sisters, Cathy Fox and Carla Taras; and a stepsister, Anna Carabucci.

A memorial service will be held from noon to 2 p.m. Sept. 22 in Operating Engineers Local 150, 6240 Joliet Rd., Countryside.

Copyright (c) 2007, Chicago Tribune

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