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Colonel Paris Davis will finally be awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in Vietnam

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Colonel (Ret.) Paris Davis, who was one of the first black Special Forces officers, will finally be receiving the Medal of Honor. According to the White House, President Joe Biden called Davis to tell him that he will personally decorate him with the nation’s highest military award.

President Biden told Davis that his “remarkable heroism during the Vietnam War” will finally be celebrated. Fifty-seven years ago, as a Special Forces officer, Colonel Davis showed remarkable courage during an intense firefight in Vietnam. However, the military twice inexplicably lost the paperwork documenting his nomination for the Medal of Honor; some attributed this to racism.

A date for the ceremony has not yet been announced, but President Biden said that he was looking forward to hosting Davis at the White House.

Davis released a statement after he received the president’s phone call on Monday, saying it “prompted a wave of memories of the men and women I served with in Vietnam — from the members of 5th Special Forces Group and other U.S. military units to the doctors and nurses who cared for our wounded.”

“As I anticipate receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor, I am so very grateful for my family and friends within the military and elsewhere who kept alive the story of A-team, A-321 at Camp Bong Son,” Davis added.

“I often think of those fateful 19 hours on June 18, 1965, and what our team did to make sure we left no man behind on that battlefield,” Davis said.

Related: The siege of the Green Berets at Plei Me: The first major battle of the US in Vietnam

Paris Davis during an interview
Paris Davis in a television interview discussing the 1965 battle. (Screenshot from CoffeeorDie via University of Georgia Archive)

On June 18, 1965, Davis, who was then a captain, led his team plus 90 South Vietnamese troops in a predawn raid on a North Vietnamese Army (NVA) camp in Bong Son. When the raid started, Davis and three Americans, one of whom was Special Forces and CIA legend Billy Waugh, crawled into the camp and killed the NVA commander.

A large NVA counter-attacking force forced the group into a rice paddy and every American was wounded. As the team retreated to a hill overlooking the rice paddy, airstrikes were called in on the hundreds of attacking NVA troops, but four Americans were stuck on the rice paddy. Although wounded, once the airstrikes took a toll on the NVA, Davis raced back to the rice paddy to rescue his teammates.

A rescue force arrived 10 hours later, and a colonel ordered Davis to withdraw. He refused to leave the field when his troops were still in the rice paddy. 

“I have two troops that I don’t know the status of,” Davis said. Despite his wounds, he went and recovered both of them. He was then able to withdraw.

Immediately, his commander submitted his name for the Medal of Honor. However, his paperwork was inexplicably lost twice, and no record existed of it ever being submitted. The paperwork was submitted a second time, but it was lost again. Colonel Davis initially received the Purple Heart Silver Star for his actions that day.

Yet, in 2021 acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller, himself a Green Beret officer, ordered the Army to conduct an expedited review of the case. He wrote in June 2021 that awarding Davis the Medal of Honor would address an injustice

“Some issues in our nation rise above partisanship,” Miller wrote. “The Davis case meets that standard.”

Waugh, who is suffering from ill health and a failing memory, wrote perhaps the most fitting end to the story. “I only have to close my eyes to vividly recall the gallantry of this individual,” Waugh said.

Feature Image: Army civilian employees pass around Retired Master Sgt. Leroy Petry’s Medal of Honor while attending a Mental Health Awareness Observance May 17, Heritage Hall, Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois. (Photo by Kevin Fleming/U.S. Army Sustainment Command)

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to mention that Colonel Paris Davis was one of the first black Special Forces officers.

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