One of the first Black officers to lead a Special Forces team in combat, then-Capt. Paris Davis distinguished himself on June 18, 1965, during a pre-dawn raid on a North Vietnamese Army camp in Bong Son. After initial success, a major enemy counterattack wounded every American there — and he thought death for his comrades would soon follow.
Leaving behind his wounded soldiers, despite an order to withdraw, wasn’t an option.
Davis, a former All-American college running back who would eventually command 10th Special Forces Group before retiring as a colonel in 1985, rescued each member of his team. He sprinted into an open rice paddy repeatedly to retrieve each of them, firing his rifle with his little finger after an enemy grenade shattered his hand. Thanks to Davis’ efforts and timely air support, his entire team survived the battle.
The Black officer’s commander immediately recommended him for the Medal of Honor, but the paperwork disappeared at least twice. He eventually received a Silver Star Medal for his actions that day, and Davis’ team members have long argued that his race played a role.
Former acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller agreed and ordered an expedited review of Davis’ Medal of Honor package in early 2021, first reported by the New York Times. Miller late wrote an opinion piece calling out defense department bureaucracy for continued delays.
Now, Army Times has confirmed that Davis’ upgrade package is complete and awaits Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s approval. If Austin approves it, the request for the nation’s top valor award will go to President Joe Biden’s office for the final nod and presentation.
A source familiar with Davis’ award upgrade request told Army Times that it arrived on Austin’s desk last week. Military.com first reported the news, citing an anonymous Pentagon official.
The endeavor to right the injustice Davis faced is occurring alongside a broader effort to consider Medal of Honor upgrades for historically marginalized ethnic and racial groups. Last year, Austin ordered the services to review service crosses — the second-highest medals for combat valor — received by Black and Native American troops in the nation’s largest 20th-century wars.
But such reviews wouldn’t find cases like Davis’ or the 2021 posthumous upgrade that Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe received. The two Black soldiers only received the Silver Star initially for their heroism, a lower-level valor award, which would have excluded them from the mass review of service crosses, such as the one Austin ordered.
Instead, it took years of advocacy from comrades, activists and community members moved by their actions.
Davis Winkie covers the Army for Military Times. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill, and served five years in the Army Guard. His investigations earned the Society of Professional Journalists' 2023 Sunshine Award and consecutive Military Reporters and Editors honors, among others. Davis was also a 2022 Livingston Awards finalist.