Retired Colonel Paris Davis was one of the first black officers to serve in the Army’s Special Forces. His courage and bravery earned him the respect of his soldiers in, and a nomination for the country’s highest military combat award.
But Davis never received his– his file disappeared in Vietnam, almost 56 years ago in 1965.
That year, Washington saw anti-war protests rage. Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama galvanized themovement.
In Vietnam, then army captain Paris Davis broke down barriers on the battlefield.
“Were you one of the first black officers of the Green Berets? Catherine Herridge, CBS News senior investigation correspondent, asked the veteran.
“Yes I was,” he replied. “It worked fine because I said, ‘Look, you can call me Captain Davis… But you can’t call me a **** r. “”
He added: “And it happened.”
In June 1965, Davis conducted an almost 7-hour raid northeast of Saigon.
“We stacked bodies like you do in a grocery store,” Davis recalls.
Hit by a grenade and gunfire, Davis did not leave Americans Billy Waugh and Robert Brown behind. Both were seriously injured – and Brown was shot, Davis said.
“I could actually see his brain throbbing. It was so big,” Davis said. “He said, ‘Am I going to die?’ And I said, ‘Not before me.’ “
When asked if he had been told to leave, Davis replied, “Twice.”
As he first revealed in 1969 to promising local TV host Phil Donahue, Davis said he told his boss, “Sir, I’m just not going to go. an American over there. “
“He told me to move out. I just disobeyed the order,” Davis told Donahue.
There, next to Davis in the 1969 television interview was Ron Deis – now the youngest survivor of the team.
Deis later recalled Davis’ actions that day to CBS News and was visibly moved.
“Captain Davis refused and said, ‘No I’m not leaving as long as I have men on the ground,” ”he said.
That year, the chief of the US forces in Vietnam, General William Westmoreland, visited the Davis outpost. His commanding officer, Billy Cole, recommended Davis for the Medal of Honor.
One way or another, the paperwork was gone in Vietnam. A 1969 military review “did not reveal any records on Davis”.
Neil Thorne, who volunteers his time to collect the medals of forgotten veterans, compared the nomination papers to the Medal of Honor he recovered through the Freedom of Information Act to gold.
What sets Davis’ case apart, Thorne said, is that he was lost.
“Everyone I have spoken to who served under him says he is the best officer they have ever served under,” he said.
Thorne said loss or destruction of Medal of Honor documents was “very rare”, adding that “there would have been multiple copies”.
In 1969, the military was ordered to submit new “ASAP” documents for Davis.
For a second time, there is no evidence that a Medal of Honor file was created.
Billy Waugh, the soldier Davis carried safely on his shoulders, wrote in a 1981 statement: “I have only to close my eyes to vividly remind myself of the bravery of this fellow.”
Over the years, Davis’s fellow soldiers have also lobbied Congress. But each time, the process stopped.
“I know race was a factor,” said Davis – a factor he says he experienced during his 23 years in the military.
He remembers a meeting with another pilot whom he rescued on a different mission.
“I saw him at Fort Bragg with his wife and child, they saw me. He went across the street so we wouldn’t have to talk,” Davis said. “If it had been a white man, you know, he would have gone and hugged him.” It’s racism.
During the interview, Davis also said that soldiers forget the color when attacked. “When you fight and things go like this, everyone is your friend, and you are everyone’s friend… bullets have no color, no name.
When asked if the battlefield is an equalizer, Davis replied “Always”.
Only 8% of Vietnam Medal of Honor recipients were black.
As for Davis, there is new momentum to acknowledge his case as the famous veteran nears his 82nd birthday.
“We are all trying to correct a mistake,” said Ron Deis.
A fast-track review of Davis’ lost appointment is expected next week. The last call goes to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and President Biden.
Asked what it would mean for him to have his service honored, Davis replied, “It would mean all the things I couldn’t dream of.”