In a White House ceremony Friday, U.S. President Joe Biden has awarded the Medal of Honor the U.S. Military’s highest decoration to retired Army Colonel Paris Davis for his bravery during the Vietnam War, nearly 60 years after he was recommended for the honor.
In a statement, the White House said Davis, then an army captain and commander of a special forces airborne group, led an inexperienced South Vietnamese regional raiding force in the battle of Bong Son in July 1965.
Facing what the White House described as a vastly superior North Vietnamese fighting force, Davis led an assault that included him personally engaging in hand-to-hand combat with the enemy, successfully destroying enemy gun placements and capturing enemy soldiers.
Wounded at least twice in the action, Davis helped regroup his men, called in artillery and air support, and rescued two U.S. soldiers incapacitated and trapped by enemy gunfire. He helped evacuate the wounded and refused medical attention for himself until all members of his company were extracted.
Davis, now 83, received the Silver Star and the Purple Heart for his actions. But though his commanding officer immediately recommended him for the medal, the paperwork was inexplicably lost.
Friends and family of Davis who is Black believe his race had something to do with the disappearance of the recommendation. It came at the height of the U.S. civil rights movement, a time of heightened racial tensions as Blacks across the U.S. were protesting segregation and demanding equal rights.
In an interview with The Associated Press this week, Davis said he does not know the reason for the delay, but he is not dwelling on it. He said he just feels overwhelmed and the wait in no way lessens the honor. In fact, he said, it heightens it.
Speaking before a capacity White House East Room audience that included Davis, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and previous Medal of Honor winners, Biden called Davis “an incredible man,” “a true hero of our nation” and referred to the event as perhaps the “most consequential” of his presidency.
Davis was honored for his actions in Vietnam during a battle that took place over 20 hours in July 1965 near Bong Son. Then an army captain and commander of a special forces airborne group, he led an inexperienced South Vietnamese force along with other U.S. soldiers on a nighttime raid against a vastly superior North Vietnamese fighting force.