Nearly 60 years after he was first recommended for the nation’s highest award for bravery during the Vietnam War, retired Col. Paris Davis, one of the first Black officers to lead a Special Forces team in combat, will receive the prestigious Medal of Honor on Friday.
Then a young captain, Paris Davis, now 83 years old, led a company tearing through a larger enemy force, pushing the attack despite being shot, absorbing shrapnel and another bullet to get wounded comrades to safety, refusing to join them on the evacuation helicopter, choosing rather to stay and continue destroying the remaining adversaries.
Davis, a colonel by the time he retired from the Army, has battle in his name, his first inspired by the mythological figure featured in Homer’s epic war poem “The Iliad.”
“When you’re fighting, you’re not thinking about this moment. You’re just trying to get through that moment.”
That moment lasted nearly 19 hours and stretched over two days in mid-June 1965.
It wasn’t until 2016 — half a century after Davis risked his life to save some of his men by fighting off the North Vietnamese — that a volunteer group of advocates painstakingly recreated and resubmitted the paperwork.
Some of Davis’ supporters believe racism was to blame, but Davis doesn’t dwell on it. He said he doesn’t know why it has taken decades for his heroism to be recognized.
“Right now I’m overwhelmed,” he told in an interview the day before he attends a White House ceremony where President Joe Biden will hang the blue ribbon holding the Medal of Honor around Davis’ neck.
The Army credits Davis for having saved three men from enemy capture: Robert Brown, John Reinberg and Billy Waugh.
For his actions, he was awarded the nation’s third-highest military decoration, the Silver Star. But according to Davis, requests for his award to be upgraded to a Medal of Honor were inexplicably lost by the Army twice over the years.