It took nearly 60 years, but an Alexandria veteran has finally been recognized for his bravery in Vietnam.
Retired Army Col. Paris Davis was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Joe Biden on Friday for his heroism during a raid on a North Vietnamese army camp on June 18, 1965.
The Green Beret was a 26-year-old captain at the time, and among the first Black officers in the Special Forces.
On Monday, Davis — now 83 — was inducted into the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes.
“Our Medal of Honor recipient, Col. Davis, is, as President Biden so aptly remarked at Friday’s Medal of Honor ceremony, an incredible man,” said Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks.
“And I want to acknowledge that this honor is long overdue — appropriate recognition should have come much sooner following the bravery you demonstrated and the sacrifices you made more than a half century ago to save your fellow soldiers from certain death during the Vietnam War. Everyone in this auditorium can agree that this award, which you so richly deserve, has, in fact, been a long time coming,” Hicks said.
During the 19-hour assault at Camp Bong Son in 1965, every member of Davis’ team was wounded — including Davis himself. He managed to rescue each man, leaving none behind, even though he had been ordered to leave.
His team members all survived.
“By the end of that day, Captain Davis had saved four of his fellow American soldiers one by one, and while twice refusing commands to evacuate the battlefield and suffering from his own serious wounds and injuries,” Hicks said.
Davis’ daughter, Regan Davis Hopper, read remarks prepared by him.
“I’m so proud of the 100 South Vietnamese soldiers who fought with us,” Hopper said. “Collectively, we never accepted defeat, nor did we let our guard down. The enemy forces outnumbered us, but we never went into combat for any other reason than to win. During the 19 hours of that battle, I knew I had to stay positive and take care of my men. Looking back, I can hardly remember the sting of the grenade, the wounds to my hand, forearm, leg, and face. I do remember though, that so many others suffered more.”
“I am so proud to be an American soldier and a Green Beret. I am grateful for what the Army provided me and what America has given me — opportunity, purpose and pride.”
Davis, through his daughter, described the Medal of Honor as “quite overwhelming.”
He urged cooperation and reflection for all Americans.
“I challenge you to realize your dreams for yourself and for America.”
Paperwork recommending Davis for the Medal of Honor was initially filed in 1965 — but vanished. According to a New York Times report, a 1969 inquiry didn’t turn up the original nomination. The nomination was then refiled, but disappeared yet again.
Members of Davis’ team have blamed racism for the vanishing paperwork.
Former Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller ordered an expedited review of Davis’ lost nomination in January 2021. Miller later argued in a June 2021 opinion piece that military bureaucracy was “perpetuating injustice.” He urged Biden to award Davis the Medal of Honor.
Featured photo courtesy Bernardo Fuller/U.S. Army
For more stories like this, subscribe to Northern Virginia Magazine’s News newsletter.