Ozarks Life: Operation Song pays tribute to an Ozarks veteran

Debra Walden Davis had an opportunity to honor her father through song.
Published: Mar. 3, 2023 at 5:26 AM CST
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BATTLEFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Every day, in every town, we’re seeing fewer and fewer obituaries for the brave men and women who served in World War II.

Every day we are losing our Greatest Generation.

This is the story of Seligman’s Wayne Walden.

Born in 1927 in Butler Hollow, Barry County, Wayne was a Sergeant First Class in the Army. He served our nation in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.

We first met him in 2017. At the age of 90, Wayne received nine medals that were never given to him when he served. At the time he said, it was war and honors were not a priority.

“You’d like to wash (the horrors of war) out of your mind and your conscious, but you can’t,” he told us in a 2017 interview.

The soft-spoken senior shared stories that day with us and those in attendance - including his children.

“Think about the things that he saw and that he did,” his daughter Debra Walden Davis said. “We never knew (those stories) until KY3 covered his medal ceremony.”

Debra helped make that special moment happen.

Fast forward to last month and she had another chance to honor her father at a music festival in Texas.

“Even in your darkest times,” Debra said, “you can always find a song that speaks to you.”

Operation Song was performing that weekend. They heard about Debra and Wayne and wanted to share their story through song.

“It’s an organization of professional singer-songwriters,” Debra said, “that work with veterans, active duty military, and their families to help write songs about what they went through as a way of healing.”

Debra brought photos of her and her dad and sat down with the songwriters. She gushed about a lifetime of memories with Steve Williams and Darby Ledbetter.

“One favorite memory was when I was small and dad would put me on his feet and we would dance,” Debra said.

That memory became a lyric in the song “Things I Never Knew.” It’s about everything a father gave his daughter while keeping the horrors of war away.

The song was written on February 3rd, performed on the 5th, and on the 6th, Debra left Texas hearing her dad’s health was failing.

“I hurried back to try and make it before he passed, but I didn’t,” Debra said. “And in fact, I walked in and found him... but that’s okay, we had our talk. And I played the song, you know, ‘here dad, here’s your song.’”

“It’s not only a tribute to my dad,” Debra said, “but to all the other guys, all the other soldiers who had families and their daughters and sons and had wonderful relationships with them. That’s what’s important.”

Click here to watch the full music video on Wayne Walden and click here to learn more about Operation Song.

If you’d like to find out more about Debra’s collection of books, click here to view her four books set in the Ozarks.

To report a correction or typo, please email digitalnews@ky3.com