On Thursday, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) announced his support for Retired Army Col. Paris Davis, one of the first black Special Forces officers to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor, nearly 56 years after Davis’ heroic efforts to save his injured teammates in Vietnam.
“Colonel Davis commanded a Special Forces team in Vietnam and rescued three of his team members during an enemy raid–despite suffering injuries of his own,” Cotton said in an emailed statement. On Tuesday, Cotton sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, urging the Department of Defense to consider Davis for the highest military decoration available in the U.S. military.
In his letter, Cotton noted Davis’ heroics over the course of an 18-hour battle against a numerically superior enemy force, rescuing three of his teammates despite his own injuries.
Cotton noted Davis’ superiors immediately recommended him for the Medal of Honor, but that his paperwork had been overlooked.
“This tragedy must be remedied. Colonel Davis’s prudent and valiant actions are a testament to his heroic character and abilities as a commander in the U.S. Army,” Cotton wrote to Austin. “He ought to be officially recognized so his example can inspire future generations of leaders and citizens.”
In an interview this week with CBS News, Davis described his actions during an hours-long firefight in Vietnam in June 1965. Injured by a grenade and gunfire, the then-26-year-old Davis continued to risk his life to save fellow injured soldiers Billy Waugh and Robert Brown.
“Brown had been shot and I could actually see his brain pulsating,” Davis said. “He said ‘am I going to die’ and I said ‘not before me.'”
Davis said he was told twice to retreat from the fight but said he disobeyed the order.
Ron Deis, the youngest surviving member of the Special Forces team in the fight that day said, “Captain Davis refused and said ‘no, I’m not leaving while I have men out on the field.”
Following Davis’ actions in the battle, his commander recommended him for the Medal of Honor, but the paperwork vanished some time before 1969. In 1969, the Army ordered Davis’ Medal of Honor citation package be resubmitted “ASAP” and again it went missing. In the ensuing years, Davis’ teammates repeatedly lobbied for him to receive the nation’s highest military decoration, but to no avail.
Davis said he believes race was a factor in the repeated disappearance of the Medal of Honor paperwork.
Deis said, “We’re all trying to right a wrong.”
Cotton, who himself received an Army Ranger tab and served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as an infantry officer, said, “Because the U.S. Army lost his nomination paperwork, Colonel Davis’ heroic actions have been overlooked for decades. It’s time he be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor he deserves.”