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Biden Awards Medal of Honor to Black Vietnam Veteran


WASHINGTON — Nearly 60 years after one of the first Black officers in the Special Forces was nominated — and then omitted — for the nation’s highest military honor, President Biden on Friday awarded the Medal of Honor to that officer, Colonel Paris Davis, for exemplifying “everything our nation is at its best.”

“Brave and big heart. Determination and dedication. Forgiveness and steadfastness. Americans,” Biden said of Colonel Davis, who refused to leave his soldiers behind in the middle of battle after suffering multiple gunshot wounds.

The president’s fourth Medal of Honor ceremony was the culmination of decades of efforts by veterans and volunteers to recognize the sacrifice a Black officer made for a nation that in many ways refused to recognize him as an American.

Arriving in Vietnam just a month after the bloody civil rights march in Selma, Ala., Colonel Davis and three other Special Forces soldiers led South Vietnamese volunteers to attack an enemy camp on the same day. June 18, 1965, when they were fired. Even after a grenade partially detonated his trigger finger and several other soldiers were shot down, he continued to fight. When reinforcements arrived and he was ordered to evacuate, he refused to leave before saving his doctor. All four Special Forces soldiers survived.

Colonel Davis was immediately nominated for the Medal of Honor, but the Army somehow lost the papers twice. His teammates tried several more times, but only received silence. Mr. Biden said he wished Colonel Davis, who was a captain when the events occurred, was immediately rewarded for his bravery.

“But sadly, we know they’re not,” Biden said. “By the time Captain Davis returned from the war, the country was still fighting segregation. He came back from Vietnam to meet some of his teammates crossing the street when they saw him in America.”

But supporters of Colonel Davis, now 84, had hope in January 2021, when Christopher C. Miller, acting defense secretary under the Trump administration, ordered the completion of an expedited review of the nomination. was lost in March of that year. The resulting report had to go up to the military level for approval, ending with the president, then Mr. Biden. The president personally phoned Colonel Davis last month to let him know that he would receive the military’s highest honor.

“This medal reflects what teamwork, service and dedication can achieve,” Colonel Davis said in a brief statement after the event.

Finally, in recognizing the veteran, Mr. Biden also honored a chapter of Black history at a time when even teaching it had become a matter of political debate. It comes later Mr. Biden held the screening of a movie about Emmett Till’s mother, a black boy who was beaten to death by a white Mississippian in 1955, just a few weeks later College Board has removed Advanced Placement course for African American studies after heavy criticism from Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida. On Sunday, Mr. Biden will visit Selma to commemorate the 58th anniversary of the day when white police officers beat Black civil rights marchers as they tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

“Paris helped write the history of our country,” Biden said on a day he described as “the most important” since he was president. Five other Medal of Honor recipients attended this sad and celebratory event.

“After the ceremony, they said it was the best ceremony they’d ever attended,” said Ron Deis, 79, the youngest soldier on Colonel Davis’ squad in 1965, who attended the event at the White House. on Friday, said.

Mr. Deis is also one of the veterans who pressed in recent years for the military to honor Colonel Davis. After the ceremony, Mr Deis said in an interview that he still believes his Special Forces leader has been forgotten for decades because of his race.

“It’s my responsibility when people remove it,” Mr Deis said of the nominations.

The effort to reward Colonel Davis gained momentum in 2014 when Deis and other veterans and volunteers sent newspaper clippings, Army records, and direct accounts to senior Pentagon officials. Pentagon.

Mr Deis said: “I think we would follow him anywhere. “We know in a difficult situation he will do anything to help the team members and we can trust him with our lives if we have to.”

In vivid detail, Mr. Biden described how Colonel Davis’s three other teammates had been wounded in battle in June 1965 and that he was “left as the last American standing.” “.

A soldier’s knee was broken by a sniper’s bullet, while a weapons specialist was killed by a mortar explosion. The doctor was shot in the head.

Colonel Davis and local volunteers stopped the attacks for about 10 hours. As American fighters bombed enemy positions, Colonel Davis sprinted back to his men. He carried a sergeant back to safety even after a bullet entered his hand. He dodged the explosive grenade to crawl back to the ambulance.

“’Am I going to die?’” Mr. Biden said the doctor asked Colonel Davis. “’Not before me,’” he replied.

After enlistment, Mr. Davis published articles about the achievement of Black residents and local civil rights issues in a small newspaper he started in Virginia, called The Metro Herald.

Even after his heroism went unrecognized for decades, Mr. Biden said Colonel Davis was not bitter.

“Do you know what Captain Davis finally said after learning that he would eventually receive the Medal of Honor?” Mr. Biden asked the crowd gathered at the White House. “’America was behind me.’ He never lost his faith, which I find amazing.”

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