How Lil and Davy Booker made a life together - in and out of the Marine Corps

March 26, 2011 

  • The light of freedom still burns brightly in our world today because of the service and sacrifice of America's men and women in uniform. Our nation's servicemen and women have fought the forces of tyranny and won victories for liberty, human dignity and the ideals of democracy. We remember with profound gratitude those who suffered captivity and those whose fate remains unknown. We honor and pay tribute to those valiant families of our servicemen and women who remain missing -- families who have had to suffer not only the absence of their loved ones, but also the uncertainty of their fate. We commit that, "You Shall Never Be Forgotten."

Most people came to the U.S. Marine Corps Battle Colors Ceremony last week to see the Silent Drill Platoon or "The Commandant's Own" Drum and Bugle Corps.

Neither of these units that tours the nation disappointed the crowd at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. They twirled 10.5-pound M1 rifles and snatched them out of the air like twigs. Musicians marched in red jackets with gold buttons to the sounds of "Stars and Stripes Forever."

But I came to see Lil Booker of Cat Island.

At age 81 and now using a walker, Lil Booker was a sharp contrast to the youthful Marines strutting in precise movements all over the field, horns and bayonets gleaming in the late-afternoon sun.

But Lil Booker was treated with great respect. Enlisted women brought her water and bug spray. She was escorted on the arms of the air station's commanding officer, Col. John R. Snider, and Sgt. Maj. William Burton as she took part in the ceremony that recognizes prisoners of war and those missing in action.

"I represented my husband," Lil Booker told me. She represented the late Marine Col. Jesse V. "Davy" Booker, a lean, pipe-smoking Texan.

A year after their wedding on Flag Day 1949, he was shot down over North Korea and imprisoned three years.

He was made an example by his captors. He got brutal treatment because, with more than 100 combat missions in World War II under his belt, he was a senior Marine and organized the troops in prison.

At home, life was hard on the 19-year-old bride who didn't know if her "knight in shining armor" was dead or alive. She was told both. She went back to school. She lost herself in her work. And she wrote to him almost every day.

She hopes today the sacrifices made by people like her husband are not forgotten by Americans.

'CORRECTIVE SURGERY'

Davy Booker didn't talk much about being a POW. He'd say they "weren't very kind to any of us." He'd say he did a job he was paid to do. He'd also say he held many POWs who died in his arms, a smile on their faces because that was the easy way out.

Davy Booker weighed 162 pounds when he was captured, and came home weighing 87 pounds. He was hospitalized for four months, then moved on with life, leaning on the words of cleric in his POW camp: "Take it, accept it and forget it." He served 15 more years on active duty, then represented the Marine Corps 10 more years by setting up JROTC programs in high schools.

After his death, his wife shared some details of what happened to her husband, who joined the Marine Corps in 1942 when the war was on and he was sure they couldn't win it without him.

"He did have to have a portion of his intestines removed after damage from beatings with gun butts in his abdomen," she wrote to a POW veterans organization, "and he continued to have dysentery through the years; then back surgery to try to correct problems from bayonets in the back, then lung surgery as a portion of one was collapsed due to beatings, etc. He passed away during a final 'corrective surgery' on 13 April 1993."

His tombstone at Beaufort National Cemetery says he loved God and country and was a true Marine.

NO TIME TO HATE

The Bookers retired in 1976 to Beaufort, where he'd once been stationed and where Lil spent part of her childhood on Parris Island. Her father was a Marine Corps general, and both his brothers were admirals. She says her first words were "Four-to-your-left," something she'd heard in the constant drilling on Parris Island.

In Beaufort, Lil sold real estate for 30 years. Davy fished and volunteered for everything. He led the United Way and the county Red Cross chapter.

In 1987, Davy and Lil Booker were featured in a documentary narrated by Robert Wagner, "POW -- Americans in Enemy Hands, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam." It tells a powerful story on behalf of more than 130,000 American POWs in those wars. Davy Booker said three things helped get him home: knowing he had a wife, having lived long enough to appreciate his country, and religion.

In 1988, Davy Booker was invited to the White House by President Ronald Reagan, where he was one of the first to receive the POW medal at a South Lawn ceremony.

"It wasn't just me who received that award," Davy Booker told The Boot newspaper back home at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island. "It's a tribute to everyone who was ever a POW -- whether they came home or not."

He told the newspaper that every POW has a different story, but they all must leave the experience behind.

"Too many people relive the hatred the rest of their lives," he said. "I've never had time for hatred. I have plenty of time to fish, plenty of time to spend on my boat, cherish the time I spend with my wife -- but I don't have time to hate."

The POW recognition wasn't the splashiest part of the Battle Colors Ceremony. But its message should be: Don't ever forget the value of freedom.

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