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  • Writer's pictureLeigh Gerstenberger

Lest We Never Forget

Colonel Paris Davis (Ret.) was a Captain in the United States Army Special Forces in 1965. On March 3, 2023, he received the Medal of Honor for his actions in Vietnam nearly 58 years earlier.

Davis was initially nominated for the Medal of Honor in 1965; however, the Army lost the nomination. In 1969 an inquiry was ordered, and it found no record of the original nomination. The nomination was resubmitted and lost again. Davis is African American and it has been suggested that racism was a factor in the losing of his nomination paperwork.

In January 2021 then Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher C. Miller ordered an expedited review of the lost nomination, to be completed by March 2021. In a June 2021 editorial Miller wrote that the military bureaucracy was again stalling the review and urged President Joe Biden to award Davis the Medal of Honor. In November 2022 it was reported that the nomination had been approved by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, and was awaiting approval by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. On February 14, 2023, it was confirmed that Davis would finally receive the Medal of Honor.

Here are some excerpts from an account of Davis’s actions on June 18, 1965 written by him.

We had just finished a successful raid on a Viet Cong Regimental Headquarters, killing upwards of one hundred of the enemy. The raid had started shortly after midnight. After the raid was completed the first platoon of the 883rd Company broke and started to run just about the time I gave the signal to pull in the security guarding the riverbank.

It was beginning to get light (dawn) when I caught up to the first platoon and got them organized when the main body of the platoon was hit by machine gun fire. I was hit in the hand by a fragment from a grenade. About the time I started moving the platoon back to the main body, I heard firing and saw a wounded, friendly VN soldier running from the direction of the firing. He told me that the remainder of the 883rd Company was under attack. I moved the platoon I had back towards the main body. When I reached the company, the enemy had it pinned down in an open field with automatic weapons and mortar fire.

I immediately ordered the platoon I had to return the fire, but they did not – only a few men fired. I started firing at the enemy moving up and down the line, encouraging the 883rd Company to return the fire. We started to receive fire from the right flank. I ran down to where the firing was and found five Viet Cong coming over the trench line. I killed all five and then I heard firing from the left flank. I ran down there and saw about six Viet Cong moving toward our position. I threw a grenade and killed four of them. My M16 jammed, so I shot one with my pistol and hit the other with my M16 again and again until he was dead.

Master Sergeant Billy Waugh started to yell that he had been shot in the foot. I ran to the middle of the open field and tried to get MSG Waugh, but the Viet Cong automatic fire was too intense, and I had to move back to safety. By this time Staff Seargent Morgan, who was at the edge of the open field, regained consciousness. He had been knocked out by a VC mortar round. He told me that he was receiving sniper fire. I spotted the sniper and shot him in his camouflaged manhole. I crawled over and dropped a grenade in the hole killing two additional Viet Cong.

I was able at this time to make contact with Forward Air Control Captain Bronson and Sergeant Ronald Dies. CPT Bronson diverted a flight of 105s and had them drop their bombs on the enemy's position. I ran out and pulled SSG Morgan to safety. He was slightly wounded, and I treated him for shock. The enemy again tried to overrun our position. I picked up a machine gun and started firing. I saw four or five of the enemy drop and the remaining ones break and run. I then set up the 60mm mortar, dropped about five or six mortars down the tube and ran out and tried to get MSG Waugh. SSG Morgan was partially recovered and placed machine gun fire into the enemy position. I ran out and tried to pick up MSG Waugh, who had by now been wounded four times in his right foot. I tried to pick him up, but I was unable to do so. I was shot slightly in the back of my leg as I ran for cover. By this time CPT Bronson had gotten a flight of F-4s to drop bombs on the enemy. I ran out again and this time was shot in the wrist, but I was able to pick up MSG Waugh and carried him fireman style, in a hail of automatic weapon fire, to safety. I called for a MEDEVAC for MSG Waugh. When the MEDEVAC came, I carried MSG Waugh about 200 yards up over a hill. As I put MSG Waugh on the helicopter, Sergeant First Class Reinburg got off the ship and ran down to where the 883rd Company was located. He was shot in the chest almost immediately. I ran to where he was and gave him first aid. With SSG Morgan's help I pulled him to safety.

The enemy again tried to overrun our position. I picked up the nearest weapon and started to fire. I was also throwing grenades. I killed about six or seven.

I was then ordered to take the troops I had and leave. I informed the Colonel in the Command-and-Control center that I had one wounded American and one American I didn't know the status of. I informed the Colonel that I would not leave until I got all the Americans out. SFC Reinburg was MEDEVACed out. The fighting continued until mid-afternoon. We could not get the Company we had to fight. The enemy tried to overrun our position two more times. We finally got reinforcements and with them I was able to go out and get Specialist First Class Brown who lay out in the middle of the field some fourteen hours from the start until the close of the battle.

Paris Davis’s Medal of Honor was initially delayed due to bureaucratic red tape in the military chain of command. Additionally, his heroic actions occurred in December 1967, during a particularly controversial period in the Vietnam War. As such, some believe that the Medal of Honor nomination was sidelined as the United States was trying to downplay the war and its growing unpopularity with the American public.

In Davis’s case, there is also some evidence to suggest that race may have been a factor in the delay of his Medal of Honor recognition. Davis was an African American serviceman, and many critics believe that the military was reluctant to honor a black soldier with its highest award at the time. Additionally, his Medal of Honor was delayed, even as two of his white comrades were awarded the same honor for similar actions.

Lest we never forget.

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