One of the first African-American officers to command a Special Forces team in combat, retired Col. Paris Davis, was awarded the Medal of Honor on Friday for his actions during the Vietnam War, nearly 60 years after he was first recommended for the honor.
A grateful Davis, speaking after a packed White House ceremony, put more emphasis on the honor than the delay, saying, “It is in the best interests of America that we do things like this.”
God bless you, God bless all, God bless America,” he said as Vice President Joe Biden hung the medal around his neck.
The recommendation for the 83-year-old Virginian’s medal was lost, resubmitted, and then again lost, leading to the delayed recognition.
It wasn’t until 2016 that advocates painstakingly recreated and resubmitted the paperwork, fifty years after Davis risked his life to save some of his men under fire.
Vice President Biden called Davis a “true hero” for leading his wounded troops to safety under intense enemy fire. Biden claims that Davis told his superior, “Sir, I’m just not going to leave. There is still an American out there for me. In order to rescue a medic who had been shot, he had to return to the action.
You embody everything that this medal stands for,” Biden said to Davis. You embody the best qualities of our great country. courageous and generous, strong-willed and loyal, selfless and dependable.
When discussing the segregation Davis encountered upon his return to the United States, Biden said Davis should have received the honor long ago.
What happened to the paperwork?” Biden
asked. And not just this once. However, that’s not only once.
Davis doesn’t spend much time thinking about the long wait for recognition and claims he has no idea why it took so long.
“Right now I’m overwhelmed,” he told The Associated Press in an interview on Thursday, the eve of the medal ceremony.
The moment is lost on you when you’re fighting,” Davis said. You’re doing your best to get by in this very moment.
In the middle of June of 1965, “that moment” lasted for nearly 19 hours, or two days.
During a predawn raid on a North Vietnamese army camp in the village of Bong Son in Binh Dinh province, Davis, then a captain and commander with the 5th Special Forces Group, was involved in nearly continuous combat.
He fought the North Vietnamese in hand-to-hand combat, ordered accurate artillery fire, and prevented the capture of three American soldiers, all while taking fire himself and enduring grenade blast wounds. After an enemy grenade shattered his hand, he reportedly fired his rifle with his pinky.
The ArmyTimes reports that Davis ran into an open rice paddy several times to save his teammates. All of his men made it out alive.
Today, “gallantry” is “not much used,” Biden said. And yet, there isn’t a more appropriate word to describe Paris than “magical.”
Davis is originally from Cleveland, but after retiring in 1985, he moved to Alexandria, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C. A few weeks ago, Biden gave him a call to break the news.
The delay, he insists, does not detract from the significance of the award.
The anticipation “heightens the thing,” he said, referring to the length of time that one must wait. It’s like asking for an ice cream cone and having it promised to you. Its appearance and aroma are familiar to you. Simply put, you haven’t licked it yet.
Davis was recommended for the highest military honor by his commanding officer, but the paperwork never made it to him. His team members have speculated that Davis’ race played a role in the disappearance of the recommendation for the Medal of Honor, despite the fact that he was eventually awarded the Silver Star, the military’s third-highest combat medal.
A junior member of Davis’s team in Bong Son, named Ron Deis, told the AP in a separate interview that he believes the paperwork was lost on purpose.
Deis, who is now 79, contributed to the 2016 recommendation. He claimed to have known that Davis had been recommended for the Medal of Honor soon after the battle in 1965 and to have spent years puzzling over why he hadn’t been given the honor. Around nine years ago, he found out that a second nomination had been sent in “and that also was somehow, quote, lost.”
However, Deis was of the opinion that they were not lost. I think they were thrown away on purpose. Only because he was Black were they thrown away, I suppose.
There is no indication of racism in Davis’ case, according to the Army.
“We’re here to celebrate the fact that he got the award, long time coming,” Maj. Gen. Patrick Roberson, deputy commanding general, US Army Special Operations Command, told the AP. It’s not like we’ve seen anything that would make us say, ‘Hey, this is racism.'” – Members of the United States Army
We can’t know that,” Roberson said.
Early in 2021, then-acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller requested a speedy investigation into Davis’s case. Later that year, in an opinion column, he argued that rectifying an injustice by bestowing the Medal of Honor upon Davis was at hand.
Miller stated that there are issues that should be discussed independently of political affiliation. The Davis case is up to that standard, she said.
Regan Davis Hopper, Davis’s daughter and a mother to two teenage sons, told the Associated Press that she didn’t find out about her father’s bravery until 2019. She, like he, said she tries to move past her dissatisfaction with the outcome by focusing on what can be done now.
That’s something I try to keep out of my mind. I try not to let that weigh me down so much that I can’t enjoy the excitement and thrill of the moment,” Hopper said. That’s the most crucial thing, I think, to keep in mind as we move forward: how thrilling it will be for the people of the United States to finally meet my dad. The only thing I can say is that I’m very pleased with him.