President Joe Biden will award the Medal of Honor on Friday to a Black Army Special Forces Vietnam War hero who waited nearly 60 years to receive the country’s highest award for valor after the military said it lost its paperwork – twice.
Then a young captain, Paris Davis, now 83 years old, led a company that ripped through a larger enemy force, continued the attack despite being shot, absorbing shrapnel and another bullet to carry wounded comrades to safety, and refused to to join them on the evacuation helicopter, preferring to stay and continue destroying the remaining opponents.
A colonel by the time he retired from the military, Davis’s first name “Paris” was inspired by the mythological figure from Homer’s epic war poem “The Iliad.”
In 1965, having already served in Korea and Vietnam, Davis was told by his company commander that he was destined for the treacherous province of Binh Dinh.
“He said it was overrun by the Viet Cong. He thought because of my training and the way I handled myself that I could handle being in a situation where there were more enemies than friends,” Davis told ABC News during a interview Thursday.
Over the summer, Davis led three other Green Berets and what the military calls “an inexperienced company of the 883rd South Vietnamese Regional Force” in a daring assault on a North Vietnamese base.
Davis personally captured two enemy combatants.
“We caught the guards who were sleeping,” Davis said. “They gave us some information — exactly where the troop preponderance was.”
According to the military, “he learned [from the captives] that a much larger enemy force was operating in the area.”
Not that Davis was surprised, he said.
“We knew we were going to run into a wasp’s nest,” he recalls.
Davis took this not as a warning to retreat, but as an opportunity to attack. On the night of June 17, he prepared his men for a surprise attack and at daybreak led them through what would stretch into a 19-hour battle.
“Davis was wounded leading the initial assault but continued to move forward, personally engaging the enemy in hand-to-hand combat and killing several enemy soldiers,” the army said in a press release.
When the enemy broke rules with a counter-offensive, a bleeding Davis led a small squad forward, destroying gun emplacements and earning more prisoners, the military said.
He then consolidated his men to withdraw and, while calling for artillery and aircraft strikes against the defenders, was hit by automatic weapons fire.
Davis was wounded again when an enemy soldier “attacked him at close range with his rifle,” the military said. Davis tackled the enemy and “defeated” him – as the military euphemistically puts it – with his bare hands.
Now wounded several times, Davis saw two American comrades seriously wounded, but across enemy lanes of fire.
Davis reached the first soldier under a hail of enemy fire and was shot down again. Despite his severe wounds and with no regard for his own safety, Davis rescued the soldier and returned him to the company perimeter. Davis again broke out cover, braving enemy fire to retrieve the second soldier. Crawling nearly 500 feet and wounded by enemy shell fragments, he rescued the soldier and returned him to the company’s perimeter,” according to the military.
At one point during the fight, Davis said he remembered a general observing the fight from a helicopter and ordering him to leave before any of the wounded soldiers were flown out. He refused.
“He said, ‘Do you know you’re disobeying an order?’ And I said, “Yes, sir, I understand. But I’m not leaving,” Davis told ABC News.
Davis described a battle of words with the senior officer.
“The General said… ‘If I were down there I’d probably kick your ass.’ And I said, “You know what, General, there’s a lot of room down here.” And that was the end of the conversation. He never landed and I never kicked him,” Davis said.
ABC News asked Davis what would have happened if he had obeyed.
“If we had followed that order, there would have been soldiers who would have just been maimed, because there [were] no other free troops available,” he said.
The Army credits Davis with saving three men from enemy capture: Robert Brown, John Reinberg, and Billy Waugh.
For his actions he was awarded the country’s third highest military decoration, the Silver Star. But according to Davis, requests to upgrade his award to a Medal of Honor have been inexplicably lost by the military twice over the years.
“The first time is for me, the second time for the army,” he said. Davis has speculated that his race might have played a factor.
Army officials said they cannot determine if any records were lost, or under what circumstances.
“Due to lack of data, we can’t say for sure, but we’re pleased that the president will soon bestow this overdue honor on Colonel Paris Davis and his family,” Army spokeswoman Madison Bonzo told ABC News Wednesday.
Davis credits a group of friends and comrades for refusing to let the military forget his case.
Davis, with his first name inspired by the ancients, alluded to Greek tragedy as he explained the solution to his decades-long case.
“The soldiers you served with, the soldiers you were in the war with become that Greek refrain. They pick up on the voice and say, ‘We’re not letting this rest, we’re going for it until we’re done.’ And that’s the saving grace that I’m so thankful for,” he said.
Biden awards Medal of Honor to Black Vietnam War hero after paperwork ‘lost’ appeared twice on abcnews.go.com