Joe Biden awards Medal of Honor to first Black Special Forces officer
Joe Biden awarded a retired Army Col. Paris D. Davis the Medal of Honor for rescuing fellow soldiers despite being wounded during a mission in Vietnam.
Anthony Jackson, Associated Press
WASHINGTON – One of the first Black commanders to lead an elite unit in combat received Friday the nation’s highest award for valor, fixing what advocates viewed as a decadeslong injustice.
President Joe Biden hung the blue ribboned Medal of Honor around the neck of retired U.S. Army Col. Paris D. Davis at a White House ceremony.
“He never lost faith, which I find astounding,” Biden said. He said the day may be “the most consequential” since he became president.
“Paris, you are everything this medal means – I mean everything this medal means,” Biden told Davis, who stood at attention in his military uniform. “You are everything our nation is at our best.”
In brief remarks after the ceremony, Davis deflected the attention to his own bravery, saying the medal “reflects what teamwork, service, and dedication can achieve.”
“God bless you, God bless all, God bless America,” he added.
Davis saved the lives of three fellow soldiers despite being wounded multiple times as he held off a vastly superior enemy force after a 1965 raid on a North Vietnamese army camp in Bong Son, according to the White House.
The package of recommendations and supporting documents for a Medal of Honor for Davis was lost at least twice as his nomination bounced around the Army and the Pentagon for nearly six decades.
Some advocates for Davis had argued that race was a factor in the delay.
Davis was one of the first Black officers in the Army Special Forces, joining the Green Berets only 14 years after the military was desegregated.
Why does Davis deserve the Medal of Honor?
Davis was leading an inexperienced South Vietnamese team in June 1965 when he used “surprise and leadership” to gain a tactical advantage over enemy forces, according to the White House.
Despite being wounded in the initial assault, Davis kept moving forward, engaging the enemy in hand-to-hand combat.
During a counterattack, Davis was shot in the arm and the leg as he rescued the team sergeant who was trapped by enemy fire. After limping up a hill with the sergeant on his shoulder, Davis went back down toward the enemy fire and saved a second soldier.
Ordered to get on a rescue helicopter, Davis instead went looking for the medic who’d been shot in the head. When he reached him, the medic – who had found out the day before that his wife had given birth to their first child –asked Davis if he was going to die.
“Not before me,” Davis replied.
Still fending off the enemy, Davis hauled the medic up the hill.
“Capt. Davis had saved each one of his fellow Americans,” Biden said.
Why was the Medal of Honor delayed?
After the battle, Davis was recommended for the Medal of Honor by one of the men he had rescued, the team sergeant. But his nomination package was “lost” without explanation, according to Christopher C. Miller, who was an acting defense secretary during the Trump administration. A package recreated in 1969 also disappeared, Miller wrote in a 2021 opinion piece for USA TODAY.
Miller said he tried during his tenure to restart the process but the bureaucracy stalled again.
“The Davis case raises troubling questions about what truly happened to his Medal of Honor nomination in 1965, then in 1969, and again through the years,” he wrote.
What is the Medal of Honor?
The Medal of Honor is given to members of the Armed Forces who risk their own lives above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in a conflict. Recipients must have shown great personal bravery or self-sacrifice. There also must be “incontestable proof” of their actions.
What is the Soldier’s Medal?
Davis is one of only four service members in U.S. military history to receive both the Medal of Honor and the Soldier’s Medal for heroism. He previously received the Soldier’s Medal for saving the life of a soldier whom he pulled from a burning truck shortly before it exploded.
More about Davis
- Personal: Davis, 84, was born in Cleveland. He lives in Arlington, Virginia, and is the father of three children.
- Military service: Davis was commissioned as an Army reserve officer in 1959. After graduating from Airborne and Ranger schools, he was selected for Special Forces in 1962.
- Previous honors: Davis has received the Silver Star, Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart and Air Medal. He was inducted into the Ranger Hall of Fame in 2019.
- Post-military: After retiring from the military in 1985, Davis published a small newspaper in Virginia.
Biden awards 4 Medals of Honor for Vietnam heroism
President Joe Biden on Tuesday bestowed the nation’s highest military honor to four Army soldiers for their heroism above and beyond the call of duty during the Vietnam War. (July 5)