William Hugh Davis: 1948 - 2007 - Anti-war, union activist
By Patricia Trebe
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
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
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
"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
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
Mr. Davis' success lay in looking at issues from both sides, former
"He always strived for balance and a happy medium for everyone," said
Michael Galorath, supervisor in the automotive department at the Addison
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
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
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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