Was Race a Factor in Col. (Ret.) Paris Davis’ Almost 60-Year Wait to Receive the Medal of Honor?

By Lewis “Lew” Chapman
Special Forces Decade Member, Chapter 38

I am a 76-year-old former United States Army Special Forces – SF (Green Beret) soldier and an African American. Additionally, I am a Decade Member of the Special Forces Association (Chapter 38). I am writing to provide my experience and opinion as a former A-Team (A-325) Vietnam veteran in 1968 regarding Col. Davis receiving the Medal of Honor after nearly a 60 year wait.

I was recruited after successfully completing a two-hour written exam in 1967 by the Special Forces Training Group (Abn) at the John F. Kennedy Center for Special Warfare. I was having too much fun at college. I had just completed my airborne training at Fort Benning in Georgia as a Squad Leader, and, as an Honor Graduate. Special Forces was the only reason I joined the Army. I had initially thought of joining the Air Force.

After seeing a billboard in my hometown of Providence, RI, that displayed a Special Forces A-Team with their spit-shined paratrooper boots and Green Berets and then asked, “ARE YOU MAN ENOUGH?” I was not sure, but I wanted to try (In those days, SF recruited you. You could not choose SF when enlisting). After jump school graduation, I was given orders to report to the Special Forces Training Group (Abn) at Fort Bragg. This was one of the happiest days of my young 20-year life, especially after my lack of effort at college.

During my training at the Special Forces Training Group (Abn) starting in August of 1967, I was surprised and impressed with the training staff. I was surprised at how cool and laid-back the instructors were. After all the yelling, hard-core instructions and push-ups given at jump school (airborne school), I was now on my first morning being quietly told that breakfast was being served if wanted, was just too cool. I was impressed by their professionalism as well. In my training class, there were more senior ranked soldiers than I. However, our instructors did not favor those soldiers and when they felt it necessary, they called them out. It was important to me to see that everybody, all trainees, were the same in Special Forces.

Lt. Col Martha “Maggie” Raye, honorary Green Beret, with SP4 Lewis Chapman, Jr., in front of the A-325’s Team House. Nicknamed “Colonel Maggie” by the troops, she went out to border camps where no other “VIPs” would be allowed. (Photo courtesy Lew Chapman)

Lt. Col Martha “Maggie” Raye, honorary Green Beret, with SP4 Lewis Chapman, Jr., in front of the A-325’s Team House. Nicknamed “Colonel Maggie” by the troops, she went out to border camps where no other “VIPs” would be allowed. (Photo courtesy Lew Chapman)

I arrived in Vietnam in August of 1968 and after an indoctrination and acclimatization course on Hon Tre Island off the coast of South Vietnam, I was assigned to an A-Team. A-325/Duc Hue, located in the III Corps area of South Vietnam in Hau Nghia Province, northwest of Saigon along the Cambodian border. Everyone that I came in contact with, from personnel of the 5th Special Forces Group (Abn) Headquarters in Nha Trang to the C-Team personnel at Bien Hoa and on to the B-Team personnel at Tay Ninh, were all welcoming and professionally cool.

While a member of my A-Team, race was not specifically discussed as I can recall. Our discussions and concerns were about the NVA across the Cambodian border that wanted to kill us. We however did discuss during one evening in the Team House, the relative differences of the U.S. and African countries’ economic development. That discussion did not evolve to the point of being racist. Respect among teammates in SF is a given. Everyone on an A-Team knows what each member had to go through to earn that Green Beret. I left my A-Team in October of 1969 to return to college, feeling good about my teammates and Special Forces in general.

Reading the story of Col. (Ret) Paris Davis’ Medal of Honor paperwork package being lost twice by the Army is disheartening and may also be discouraging to many. However, it is important to distinguish between the U.S. Army of those decades and the Army Special Forces. It was the U.S. Army’s personnel that somehow lost Col. Davis’ Medal of Honor paperwork package. It was Army Special Forces personnel and Col. Davis’ teammates that persisted in getting new paperwork pushed forward.

The Army Special Forces, by the nature of its creation in 1952 by former members of the Army’s WWII Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and their Special Operations teams named “Jedburghs,” with the concept of Unconventional Warfare (UW), was not appreciated and or wanted by the Army. These former OSS men: McClure, Bank, Volkmann, Fertig, Blair, Waters, and McDowell persisted such that the Army Special Forces’ UW concept survived and has grown to now being the Army’s newest branch (by General Orders No. 35 in 1987). On top of this UW concept (no pun intended), being granted Presidential permission in 1961 to wear the Green Beret by President Kennedy was a bit too much for the “regular” Army.

The Army had disbanded and thought it had gotten rid of its special units after WWII; (the Rangers and the 1st Special Service Force — a U.S. and Canadian combined force). In the 1950s and ‘60s, Army Special Forces had therefore become an unwanted stepchild of the U.S. Army. This is not my opinion; it is the history of the Army Special Forces during those times.

Regardless of the bravery and heroism of the men of Special Forces, there were many in the “regular” Army that were not fans.

So, here we have in 1965 an African American Green Beret captain doing what Green Berets do when the going gets tough, gets his Medal of Honor paperwork lost not once, but twice! And yes, given the racial unrest in the U.S. during the 1960s, Col. Davis’ race cannot be discarded in how this almost 60 year “cluster f_ _ k” took place. What we do know for sure is that his Green Beret teammates and the 5th Special Forces Group (Abn) and Command did not leave him, alone, after almost 60 years.