The Mercury News
Black Vietnam vet finally recognized
WASHINGTON >> Nearly 60 years after he was recommended for the nation's highest military award, retired Col. Paris Davis, one of the first Black officers to lead a Special Forces team in combat, received the Medal of Honor on Friday for his bravery in the Vietnam War.
After a crowded White House ceremony, a grateful Davis emphasized the positive of the honor rather than negative of the delay, saying, “It is in the best interests of America that we do things like this.”
Thanking President Joe Biden, who draped a ribbon with the medal around his neck, he said, “God bless you, God bless all, God bless America.”
The belated recognition for the 83-year-old Virginia resident came after the recommendation for his medal was lost, resubmitted — and then lost again.
It wasn't until 2016 — half a century after Davis risked his life to save some of his men under fire — that advocates painstakingly recreated and resubmitted the paperwork.
Biden described Davis as a “true hero” for risking his life amid heavy enemy fire to haul injured soldiers under his command to safety. When a superior ordered him to safety, according to Biden, Davis replied, “Sir, I'm just not going to leave. I still have an American out there.” He went back into the firefight to retrieve an injured medic.
“You are everything this medal means,” Biden told Davis. “You're everything our nation is at our best. Brave and big hearted, determined and devoted, selfless and steadfast.”
Biden said Davis should have received the honor years ago, describing segregation in the U.S. when he returned home and questioning the delay in awarding him the medal.
“Somehow the paperwork was never processed,” Biden said. “Not just once. But twice.” Davis doesn't dwell on the delayed honor and says he doesn't know why decades had to pass before it finally arrived.
“Right now I'm overwhelmed,” he told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday, the eve of the medal ceremony.
“When you're fighting, you're not thinking about this moment,” Davis said. “You're just trying to get through that moment.”
He says the wait in no way lessens the honor.
“It heightens the thing, if you've got to wait that long,” he said. “It's like someone promised you an ice cream cone. You know what it looks like, what it smells like. You just haven't licked it.”