Retired Colonel Paris Davis, a Vietnam War veteran, will finally receive the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for bravery, on Friday at a White House ceremony. The long-awaited recognition comes nearly 60 years after Davis was recommended for the award. President Joe Biden will present Davis with the blue ribbon at the ceremony.
As one of the first Black officers to lead a Special Forces team in combat, Davis risked his life to save some of his men during a pre-dawn raid on a North Vietnamese army camp in the village of Bong Son in Binh Dinh province in mid-June 1965. Despite sustaining multiple wounds from gunshots and grenade fragments, Davis led the charge against the enemy, called for precision artillery fire, engaged in hand-to-hand combat, and thwarted the capture of three American soldiers.
Davis used his pinkie finger to fire his rifle after his hand was shattered by an enemy grenade. He repeatedly sprinted into an open rice paddy to rescue each member of his team. His entire team survived, and Davis refused to leave the battlefield until his men were safely removed.
His commanding officer recommended him for the Medal of Honor, but the paperwork disappeared. Davis eventually received the Silver Star Medal, the military’s third-highest combat medal, as an interim honor. However, members of Davis’ team argued that his skin color was a factor in the disappearance of his Medal of Honor recommendation.
Davis’ supporters believe racism was to blame, but Army officials say there is no evidence of racism in Davis’ case. “We’re here to celebrate the fact that he got the award, long time coming,” said Maj. Gen. Patrick Roberson, deputy commanding general, U.S. Army Special Operations Command. “We, the Army, you know, we haven’t been able to see anything that would say, ‘Hey, this is racism.’ We can’t know that.”
In early 2021, Christopher Miller, then the acting defense secretary, ordered an expedited review of Davis’ case. He argued in an opinion column later that year 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.”
Davis’ daughter, Regan Davis Hopper, only learned of her dad’s heroism in 2019. However, like him, she tries not to dwell on her disappointment in how the situation was handled.
The recognition of Davis’ heroism and bravery is long overdue, and his receipt of the Medal of Honor is a powerful reminder of the sacrifices made by those who have served in the military, especially those who have been overlooked and marginalized.