When reinforcements finally arrived on the afternoon of June 18, 1965, Capt. Paris Davis was able to rescue the last of his wounded men from the battlefield. Hours before, he received an order to abandon them, one that he disobeyed while engaging in harrowing combat for 19 hours.
Davis, disregarding his own safety, saved at least three Americans under the command of his Special Forces unit, which was taking heavy machine-gun and mortar fire from hundreds of Viet Cong fighters. The backs of his legs were peppered with bullets, and part of his finger had been blown off by a grenade — part of an inventory of at least eight wounds.
He had personally killed more than a dozen enemy fighters with a pistol, M16, machine gun, grenade and a 60mm mortar he set up on his own, according to an after-action report published by the Army — “stacking bodies the way you do canned goods,” he would say in a later interview.
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Davis was only 26 then. Fifty-seven years later, now-retired Col. Davis — one of the first Black men to join the Green Berets — is set to receive the Medal of Honor after the Army inexplicably lost the paperwork for the military’s highest award at least twice, and even after several pushes from his comrades, according to The New York Times.
President Joe Biden called Davis on Monday, informing him of the award, according to a family statement.
“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 said in the statement. “I think often 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 also said in the statement that the call from the president “prompted a wave of memories of the men and women” he served with, friends who had pushed over the decades for the retired colonel to receive the mark of valor he was owed.
Those supporters questioned why the Army lost his Medal of Honor paperwork, and whether Davis’ race had played a role in his being overlooked. After the documentation was lost the first time, Davis’ commander pushed for an inquiry to find out where it went, but no clear answers emerged.
The award was resubmitted, according to The New York Times. And for a second time, the paperwork was lost. Nonetheless, Davis received the Silver Star and a Purple Heart for his actions.
The civil rights movement was at a fever pitch, and racism was still overtly baked into American institutions like the military. Many of Davis’ supporters and teammates, including Davis himself, said that racism delayed his award during an interview with CBS.
“I don’t think, I know race was a factor,” he said in 2021.
In a 1969 interview on the “Phil Donahue Show,” Davis recounted the bravery of his soldiers with reverence, including Spc. Robert Brown, a medic who was struggling with his wounds at the time of the interview.
When asked what he told the colonel who had ordered him to leave Brown behind on the battlefield, Davis said, “I told him, ‘Sir, I’m just not going to leave. I still have an American out there.'”
Later, Donahue asked, “You’re a Black man who was in a command position of an all-white outfit, and you risked your life, and your career when you refused that order — that could have been the ball game, couldn’t it?”
“It sure could have,” Davis said, going on to add, “In the dark, brown is just as black or white as anyone else.”
Military.com requested comment from the Army as to why Davis’ award was delayed, but the service referred questions to the White House.
In November, Military.com learned that Davis’ nomination had been approved by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley. Since then, it went to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin for approval and then on to the president.
The White House said that Biden was looking forward to the medal presentation, though did not specify when, according to The Washington Post.
— Drew F. Lawrence can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @df_lawrence.
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