Biden awards Medal of Honor to Vietnam War hero after 60-year wait

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President Biden has awarded the Medal of Honor to a former Green Beret hero who surmounted shrapnel and bullet wounds during the Vietnam War to rescue three comrades, refusing medical evacuation until he carried all three to safety.

The president on Friday honored retired Army Col. Paris D. Davis, 83, for “conspicuous gallantry” while he was commanding a special forces unit group during combat with the North Vietnamese over two days in July 1965. He was one of the first Black officers to join the Army’s Special Forces.

“Paris, you are everything this medal means,” Mr. Biden said at a White House ceremony. “You’re everything our nation aspired to be. You’re everything our nation is at our best. Brave and big-hearted, determined and devoted, selfless and steadfast. American.” 

In Bong Son, Vietnam, Mr. Davis was commanding an “inexperienced” South Vietnamese force when his team was attacked by North Vietnamese.

During the battle, Mr. Davis was struck by automatic weapons fire and became even further wounded while engaging an enemy soldier in hand-to-hand combat.

While calling for artillery and air support, Mr. Davis realized that two members of his team had been hit by enemy fire. They were incapacitated, unable to move and trapped by enemy fire.

A sergeant had been shot badly in his foot in his leg, trapping him in the middle of the battle, a weapons specialist was stuck in a cesspit after being knocked out by shrapnel and a medic had been shot in the head.

While trying to rescue the three, Mr. Davis was shot in the leg and the arm and had to turn back. He waited for another opportunity to sprint back out and try again without regard for his own safety.

Risking his life by facing intense enemy fire, Mr. Davis crawled 150 yards to rescue the sergeant, even though he had been hit by enemy grenade fragments. Still, he limped up a hill carrying the sergeant over his shoulder to safety.

Mr. Davis then turned around and threw a rope at the weapons specialist who was stuck in the cesspit. As enemy fire rained down, Mr. Davis pulled up his team member and then carried him up the hill as well.

When the rescue helicopter arrived, Mr. Davis was ordered to get on board, but he refused the command, saying, “I still have an American out there.”

He crawled towards the medic, with gunfire and grenades exploding around him, saving the life of a soldier whose wife had given birth just a day earlier. Again, Mr. Davis carried the medic on his shoulder up the hill to safety.

“Nearly 20 hours after that bugle first rang, Col. Davis had saved each one of his fellow Americans. Every single one,” Mr. Biden said.

Mr. Davis had to wait roughly 60 years for the honor, despite being recommended for the Medal after the battle.

The Army nominated Mr. Davis for the Medal of Honor in 1965 but inexplicably lost the paperwork. His commander and one of the American soldiers rescued by Mr. Davis also nominated him for the Medal of Honor, but somehow the request disappeared again.

The Army has said it doesn’t know how the paperwork was lost or under what circumstances.

Decades passed without Mr. Davis being honored for his heroism.

In 2021, Mr. Davis told CBS News that he believes race was a factor in delaying the honor.

Mr. Davis has received the Silver Star, Bronze Star Medal with a “V” device, Purple Heart with one Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster and Air Medal with a “V” device. The “V” device distinguishes that an award is for heroism or valor in combat, rather than for meritorious service or achievement.

In a statement this week, Mr. Davis, a resident of Virginia, thanked those who pushed for the honor.

“As I anticipate receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor, I am so very grateful for my family and friends within the military and elsewhere who kept alive the story of A-team, A-321 at Camp Bong Son,” the statement said. “I think often of those fateful 19 hours on June 18, 1965, and what our team did to make sure we left no man behind on that battlefield.”

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