Sixty years after being recommended for one of America’s most significant military awards, retired Col. Paris Davis received the Medal of Honor at the White House today (March 3), saying, “God bless you, God bless all, God bless America,” as it was placed around his neck by President Joe Biden. According to The Associated Press, Davis, 83, was one of the first Black officers to lead a special forces team in combat during the Vietnam War. “You are everything this medal means,” Biden told Davis. “You’re everything our nation is at our best. Brave and big-hearted, determined and devoted, selfless and steadfast.”

In 1965, Davis was a captain and commander with the 5th Special Forces Group. He partook in almost everyday combat during a pre-dawn raid on a North Vietnamese army camp in the village of Bong Son in Binh Dinh province. President Biden described him as a “true hero” for his efforts as a soldier. Davis reportedly risked his life to save his wounded comrades amid heavy fire by their enemy. Per President Biden, when a superior told him to get to safety, the dedicated captain responded, “Sir, I’m just not going to leave. I still have an American out there.” He went back into the line of fire to grab an injured medic.

Davis retired in 1985 as a lieutenant colonel and now resides in Alexandria, Virginia, just outside Washington. The delayed recognition came after the recommendation from Davis’ commanding officer for him to get the medal was lost, resubmitted, and then lost again. In 2016, half a century later, advocates recreated and resubmitted the paperwork. President Biden himself also noted that the honor should have occurred years ago. “Somehow, the paperwork was never processed,” Biden said. “Not just once. But twice.”

Davis was eventually given the Silver Star, the military’s third-highest combat medal. But Ron Deis, a junior member of the colonel’s team in Bong Son, revealed in an interview with the media outlet that skin color may have been a factor. “I believe that someone purposely lost the paperwork,” he said. However, Davis stated that the delay does not detract from the honor. “It heightens the thing if you’ve got to wait that long,” he said. “It’s like someone promised you an ice cream cone. You know what it looks like, what it smells like. You just haven’t licked it.”