Retired Vietnam War Colonel Paris Davis, hailed as one of the first Black officers to lead a special forces team in combat, was awarded the Medal of Honor on March 3 by President Joe Biden in a White House ceremony. The 83-year-old Virginian man was finally honored after his first two recommendations for the medal were lost, resubmitted, and then lost a second time.
The Vietnam Veteran was recommended nearly 60 years ago, and Biden praised Davis for carrying injured soldiers to safety and medical treatment while under heavy enemy fire. Even when Davis’ supervisor told him to leave and get safe himself, Davis reportedly said, “Sir, I”m just not going to leave. I still have an American out there,” before going to save an injured combat medic.
Biden described the Medal of Honor recipient as a “true hero,” who is “everything this medal means,” According to AP, advocates had to work hard to recreate the paper work to get Davis his honors. Even before losing the paperwork, Davis described the segregated nature of America as a reason he wasn’t honored as soon as he returned home.
Biden added, “You’re everything our nation is at our best. Brave and big-hearted, determined and devoted, selfless and steadfast. Somehow, the paperwork was never processed,” Biden said, “Not just once. But twice. The word ‘gallantry’ is not much used these days. But I can think of no better word to describe Paris.”
The 83-year-old described being overwhelmed finally getting the award. “Right now, I’m overwhelmed,” he told the outlet, “When you’re fighting, you’re not thinking about this moment. You’re just trying to get through that moment.” He continued to admit that he was only more excited to receive the medal because of the wait.
“It heightens the thing, if you’ve got to wait that long. It’s like someone promised you an ice cream cone. You know what it looks like, what it smells like. You just haven’t licked it.”
The Associated Press reported that the Medal of Honor recipient was a commander of the 5th Special Forces Group in 1965; the harrowing event that he was awarded the blue ribbon was a two-day and 19-hour combat engagement with the North Vietnam army in a paddy rice field. The continuous fight left him with injuries to his hand that were so bad that he had to shoot his rifle with his pinky finger. While protecting his comrades, Davis hauled multiple team members to safety while taking fire from the opposing side. His entire team, thankfully, survived.
Despite Davis being recommended for the Medal of Honor soon after his retirement, the paperwork got “lost” and misplaced. Members of Davis’ team said that it was only because he was Black that the military refused to give him the highest honor and initially decided to provide him with a Silver Star.
A junior member of his team, Ron Deis, said, “I believe that someone purposely lost the paperwork. But I don’t believe they were lost. I believe they were intentionally discarded. They were discarded because he was Black, and that’s the only conclusion that I can come to.”
The long road to getting his proper accolades doesn’t make Davis’ family any less proud of him. Regan Davis Harper, his daughter and now a mother of two herself, recalled learning of her father’s heroic actions back in 2019 and that even the disappointing handling of the situation couldn’t dampen her excitement for the actual moment when Biden placed the medal around his neck.
“I try not to think about that. I try not to let that weigh me down and make me lose the thrill and excitement of the moment,” Hopper said. “I think that’s most important, just to look ahead and think about how exciting it is for America to meet my dad for the first time. I’m just proud of him.”