Davidson recognized at Coca-Cola 600

Jeff Birchfield • May 26, 2018 at 5:34 PM

Charlie Davidson was honored with the Bronze Star Medal for bravery and valor under hostile fire and combat during his career as an Air Force Lieutenant Colonel.

The 1975 Sullivan Central graduate, who died in April 2017, will be remembered Sunday on auto racing’s biggest day.

Davidson’s name appears above the driver’s side door of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet to be driven by William Byron in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Beyond his military career, Davidson was a beloved Liberty University faculty member where Byron is a student.

His high school classmate and friend, David Hodge, recalled some of the qualities of Davidson, who was the first Air Force chaplain to set foot on the soil of Baghdad on Nov. 7, 2003. He also served on the board of directors at Bristol Raceway Ministries in Bristol.

“Charlie and I were classmates at Sullivan Central, but we only became friends many years later after I heard him preach,” Hodge said. “From humble beginnings, this country boy from Northeast Tennessee became this great orator and could convey these beautiful, touching sermons from the pulpit. Due to his service in the Air Force, he literally traveled the world.”

Davidson was the first recipient of the George Rogers Champion of Freedom Award to represent the U.S. Air Force. He earned numerous awards and decorations, including the Meritorious Service Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal, Joint Service Achievement Medal, Joint Service Outstanding Unit Award, Air Force Outstanding Unit Award, National Defense Service Medal, Southwest Asia Service Medal and the Humanitarian Service Medal.

Byron’s car, which is qualified 21st for Sunday’s race, is adorned with a special red, white and blue Liberty University paint scheme. Another Liberty University alumnus, Major Michael Donahue, who served as an assistant professor for Liberty’s Army ROTC program from 2008-10, is honored with his name across the windshield. Donahue served three tours of combat and his life on Sept. 16, 2014, was taken when a Taliban suicide bomber drove a vehicle laced with explosives into a military convoy in Afghanistan.

As for Davidson, his ties to Liberty University were deep. Ordained by the Dr. Jerry Falwell at Thomas Road Baptist Church, he was commissioned a chaplain in 1986, and served as Protestant Chaplain, Senior Protestant Chaplain, Branch Chief Chaplain and Wing Chaplain.

Davidson was the Wing Chaplain for the Air Force Support Operations Squadron when he encountered the hostile fire and combat during “Operation Iraqi Freedom.”

His friend said that Davidson would be pleased with the latest honor.

“If you complimented him, he would brush it off and say it was the Lord’s guiding hand,” Hodge said. “He loved racing and would be humbled by this honor.”

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