History Wars Vietnam War

Colonel Paris Davis received the Medal of Honor nearly 60 years after he earned it in Vietnam

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paris davis

On March 3, 2023, at a White House ceremony, retired Army Colonel Paris Davis received the Medal of Honor. President Biden presented Davis with the medal for acts of bravery while serving as a Green Beret during the Vietnam War. Although Davis’s commander nominated him twice for the award, the nomination was lost both times. It wasn’t until 2022 that Davis’ nomination for the Medal of Honor got traction.

Davis was one of the first Black officers in Army Special Forces, better known as the Green Berets. In Vietnam, they trained and led units of South Vietnamese soldiers in the war against the communist north. Paris commanded Detachment A-321, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces. On June 17-18, 1965, Paris and three other Special Forces personnel led a company of inexperienced South Vietnamese troops in a raid against a larger enemy force in the vicinity of Bon Song.

captain paris davis before medal of honor
Then-Captain Davis in Vietnam, 1965 (U.S. Army/Ron Deis)

The plan immediately fell apart, with Davis and other Green Berets wounded. Despite this, Davis led his South Vietnamese troops forward, killing several communists in hand-to-hand combat. The enemy counterattacked and rained heavy gunfire on Davis and his men, separating him from the bulk of his unit. Davis responded by leading a small group to maneuver across the battlefield and destroy the enemy positions one by one.

black special forces veteran
Davis with his South Vietnamese troops (U.S. Army/Ron Deis)

After blunting the enemy’s counterattack and reorganizing his own forces, Davis called in air support. However, the enemy launched another assault with greater numbers. Despite being wounded again, Davis continued fighting and led his company in holding off the attack. During the fighting, he noticed that two of his fellow Green Berets were seriously wounded and unable to make it back to the company perimeter.

davis with ted kennedy
Then-Major Davis with Sen. Ted Kennedy during a trip to Vietnam, c. late 1960s (U.S. Army/Davis Family)

Davis was the last American still in the fight. He replied to the screams of help from his men, “I’m coming for you! I’m coming for you!” With complete disregard for his own safety, Davis rushed to save his men. He was shot in the arm on the first attempt and unable to free his soldier from the rice paddy mud on the second attempt. Davis was able to extract him on the third attempt but was shot through the leg. Upon his return to save the second soldier, he drew heavy enemy fire. Crawling 150 yards, Davis was again wounded by grenade shrapnel. Despite his multiple wounds, he managed to extract his wounded soldier.

paris davis medal of honor was originally silver star
Davis was originally awarded the Silver Star (U.S. Army)

After loading his two wounded soldiers onto the helicopter, Davis’s commander ordered him to get on board too. “Sir, I’m not just going to leave here,” Davis replied. “I still have an American out there.” Staying in the fight, Davis located and recovered his third team member and directed air and artillery support until the enemy was routed. Although his Medal of Honor nomination was brushed aside, Davis’ heroism could not be ignored and he received the Silver Star on December 15, 1965. During his time in Vietnam, Davis also earned a Bronze Star with “V” device, a Purple Heart with one Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster, and the Air Medal with “V” device.

paris davis receives his medal of honor
Col. Davis receives the Medal of Honor (twitter.com/ASOMF)

Paris earned a a Master of Science degree from Southern Illinois University in 1973, and a Master of Public Administration and Doctorate from Northern Virginia University in 1977. He retired from the Army at the rank of colonel on July 30, 1985 and published a newspaper in Virginia. He was inducted into the Ranger Hall of Fame in 2019.