Once, in a high school English class, he was given the assignment of writing an autobiography in which he stated,
'My ambitions are unlimited, my fate unknown.' So wrote James 'Tom' Davis of Livingston, Tennessee, in a high-school autobiography project. His ambitions turned out to be unrealised, his fate well known.
On 23 December 1961, Davis became 'the first American to fall in defence of our freedom in Vietnam', as US president Lyndon Johnson later described him. The truck in which he was travelling on an enemy radio transmission finding mission near the Tan Son Nhut Air Base, outside Saigon, was ambushed by the Viet Cong. Davis died in the ensuing fire fight.
Davis was the first combat fatality among the 58,000 American soldiers who were eventually to die in Vietnam. Up to three million Vietnamese also died before the end of the war.