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New mural memorializes hundreds of veteran faces, one man’s legacy

Century Villages at Cabrillo honors the stories of formerly homeless veterans

A+recently+completed+mural+at+Century+Villages+at+Cabrillo+%28CVC%29+depicts+composites+of+formerly+homeless+veterans+and+honors+the+memory+of+U.S.+Army+veteran+Samuel+Davis%2C+who+was+the+second+person+housed+at+CVC.
A recently completed mural at Century Villages at Cabrillo (CVC) depicts composites of formerly homeless veterans and honors the memory of U.S. Army veteran Samuel Davis, who was the second person housed at CVC.

A recently completed mural at Century Villages at Cabrillo (CVC) depicts composites of formerly homeless veterans and honors the memory of U.S. Army veteran Samuel Davis, who was the second person housed at CVC.

Photo courtesy of Century Villages at Cabrillo

Photo courtesy of Century Villages at Cabrillo

A recently completed mural at Century Villages at Cabrillo (CVC) depicts composites of formerly homeless veterans and honors the memory of U.S. Army veteran Samuel Davis, who was the second person housed at CVC.

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He was a dairy farmer from Connecticut. She had just graduated high school. Another was following his father’s footsteps, and someone else was a young mother searching for stability. One of them became a drill instructor for the U.S. Army. Another served in the U.S. Air Force. Some of them served in Vietnam, and others served in Afghanistan.

Many are somewhat new to the neighborhood, and one of them lived the last 15 or more years of his life here.

The names and faces that go with these stories, and many others like them, are too many to list, but the life and legacy of one of these is permanently memorialized on the recently completed Veteran Mural Project in the enclosed community of Century Villages at Cabrillo (CVC) in Long Beach.

Photo courtesy CVC
U.S. Army veteran Samuel Davis was the second person housed at Century Villages at Cabrillo (CVC) and lived at CVC for his last 17 years.

Samuel Davis, a drill instructor for the U.S. Army, was the second person housed at CVC, a nonprofit organization that provides supportive housing for more than 1,000 veterans each year.

“After I did my two years in the Army, I worked for the motion-picture industry as a stuntman,” Davis told CVC Community Engagement Director Rene Castro during an interview that took place shortly before Davis died. “I worked for Universal, DesiLu Studios, Metro Goldwyn Mayer […] all of them. I got into stunt work because of my cowboy experience. I used to rope steers. The NAACP and other organizations had been working to include more African-Americans in film. I doubled for Apollo Creed in Rocky II, Bill Cosby, Jim Brown, Bernie Casey and Moses Gunn. I worked on the Bionic Woman, 6 Million Dollar Man, Roots…”

Described by those who came to know him around the community as kind and gentle with a large physical frame and piercing green eyes, Davis is the only true-to-life portrait depicted in the new CVC mural. After an injury that required an eventual hip replacement made it difficult for him to continue to work in the industry, Davis found supportive housing at CVC.

“I made a lot of money and spent a lot of money,” Davis told Castro. “I was in my 30s, and I thought it would never end. I did it for 20 years.”

Castro played a role in the coordination of the mural project, which he said was the culmination of at least seven years of concept-building and discussion.

“We knew we wanted to highlight Sam Davis’s story […] he was such a fixture of this place,” Castro said. “His is the only portrait that is in a frame, in a photo frame, and the rest are more like composites.”

Castro said that after approximately 10 months of research and drafting, artist Art Mortimer– who drew the artwork before residents of the villages and volunteers painted it last spring– landed on the concept of using a variety of real veteran faces and real veteran bodies mismatched so that the veterans in the mural could be representative of the many individuals, the many ethnicities, the many ages and the many stories of those who served their country and found home in the Villages.

“The majority of our veterans are African American, so we not only want to honor Sam, but also we made sure to really honor the history of veterans of color,” Castro said. “Because veterans of color are disproportionately represented among the homeless.”

Also critical to the planning team for this project was representing each branch of the military.

The Naval Shipyard serves as the backdrop for the entire mural; the two veterans wearing “Army Veterans” caps represent the U.S. Army; one of the veterans depicted is wearing a USMC T-shirt representing the U.S. Marines; the helicopter in the background represents the U.S. Coast Guard; and the U.S. Air Force is represented by the missing man formation flying above the portrait of Samuel Davis.

“‘The Villages’ is a veteran story,” Castro said. “We were founded by Steve Peck– a Marine Corps, Vietnam veteran– so that DNA is in every tree here […] Navy housing, the spirit of the Navy is here, longshoremen, all the workers and their families who lived here for decades. So, it’s all here– you can feel it when you walk across the campus […] our history is rooted in military history, our veterans and their stories; so, our first attempt at a mural was honoring that core population, that history.”

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New mural memorializes hundreds of veteran faces, one man’s legacy