On March 3, 2023, President Joe Biden awarded Colonel Paris Davis (retired), the Medal of Honor at the White House. Colonel Davis was one of the first Black officers in the U.S. Army’s Special Forces. He will be presented with the Medal of Honor nearly sixty years after his heroic actions during the Vietnam War.
Born on May 6, 1939, Paris Davis studied political science at Southern University through an ROTC scholarship before his deployment to Vietnam. On June 18, 1965, Davis, then a captain in the 5th Special Forces Group, was near Camp Bong Son, an American and Army of the Republic of Vietnam base near the central coast, in charge of three other Special Forces members with the 883rd Vietnamese Regional Forces Company. After a successful raid on a Viet Cong regimental headquarters, Davis and his men came under attack.
During the hours-long engagement, Davis constantly fought enemy troops while encouraging those around him. Though wounded in the hand from a grenade and in the leg from enemy fire, Davis refused to leave behind two badly injured comrades, Master Sergeant Billy Waugh and Specialist 4 Robert Brown, behind. While he braved fire from both the enemy and from amidst American air support, he ran to pick up Waugh for MEDEVAC and, according to Davis, “carried him fireman style, in a hail of automatic weapon fire, to safety.” Though ordered to leave the fighting, Davis answered, “Sir, I’m just not going to leave. I still have an American out there.” As the battle neared a close, 19 hours after it began, Davis ran across the field of fire to rescue SP4 Brown before final extraction. Waugh recovered from his wounds and continued in the U.S. Special Forces. Brown never recovered from his severe wounds and passed away four years later.
For his actions on June 18, 1965, Davis was awarded the Purple Heart and the Silver Star. When asked in 1969 about the racial aspect of military service in the 1960s, Davis recalled, “In the dark, brown is just as black or white as anyone else.”
After the battle, both Waugh and Davis’s commanding officer wrote a recommendation for Davis to be awarded the Medal of Honor but by 1969, the paperwork had disappeared. Despite an order to submit new paperwork, the recommendation was lost again. After the action, Davis continued his Army career and later commanded the 10th Special Forces. He retired as a colonel in 1985.
In 1981, Waugh wrote of Davis, “I only have to close my eyes to vividly recall the gallantry of this individual.” Another of his comrades that day, Sergeant Ron Deis, has stated, “We all knew he deserved it [the Medal of Honor] then. . . He sure as hell deserves it now.” Over the decades, his brothers in arms and many others fought for Davis to be recognized for his bravery. This effort has now been realized with the March 3, 2023 presentation of the Medal of Honor to Colonel Paris Davis at the White House.
After receiving the call from President Biden announcing the award, Colonel Davis responded in a family statement, “The call today from President Biden prompted a wave of memories of the men and women I served with in Vietnam – from the members of 5th Special Forces Group and other U.S. military units to the doctors and nurses who cared for our wounded. . . 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. I think often of those fateful 19 hours. . .and what our team did to make sure we left no man behind on that battlefield.”