b. 30/01/1934 Saugerties, New York. d. 25/01/2024 Leavenworth, Kansas.
DATE OF MOH ACTION: 06/07/1964 Nam Dong, Vietnam.
Roger Donlon always felt that the military was his destiny in life. His father had served in World War I; all four of his brothers served in the Army or Air Force. He had wanted to go to the newly established Air Force Academy and learn to fly, but an eye examination detected the beginning of a cataract. Instead, Donlon graduated from the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School and qualified for West Point in 1955. After two years he resigned to join the Army. He graduated from Officer Candidate School and was eventually assigned to the 7th Special Forces Group in 1963.
In the spring of 1964, Donlon, now a captain, was sent to Vietnam as commander of the twelve-man Special Forces Team A-726. Their mission was to train, advise, and assist a civil defense force that provided physical security and improved the living conditions for approximately five thousand peasants in several villages in the Nam Dong Valley, a few miles from the Laotian border. Camp Nam Dong, as the Americans’ base was called, also included 311 South Vietnamese irregulars and 60 Nungs, ethnic Chinese fighters who fiercely opposed the Communists.
At around 2 a.m. on the morning of July 6, 1964, Captain Donlon, having just finished walking guard, entered the camp mess hall as a mortar round exploded on the roof, knocking him down. He got up and sprinted toward the camp’s main gate. He saw three Vietcong sappers, each with dynamite strapped to their backs, and killed them. Another mortar round hit, knocking him down again and tearing off one of his boots. Hearing one of his men yell that the enemy was near the ammunition bunker, he ran there. A third mortar round exploded, tearing off his other boot and all his equipment and wounding him badly in his arm and stomach. He tore off a piece of his shirt and stuffed it into his stomach wound to stop the bleeding. He later learned that approximately nine hundred Vietcong were threatening to overrun the camp.
Over the next several hours, Donlon scampered from one position to another, providing his men with encouragement and ammunition. As he moved the wounded team sergeant to safety, another mortar round hit, injuring him in the shoulder and killing the sergeant. Donlon then treated four wounded Nungs so they could stay in the fight. Withdrawing his force to the few remaining secure areas in the camp, he was hit repeatedly by shrapnel in his face and over the rest of his body.
Finally, a U.S. aircraft dropped flares. The sky was suddenly illuminated and Donlon saw how deeply into the camp the enemy had penetrated. Directing his force’s firepower, he and his men were able to keep the Vietcong at bay until daylight. The next day supplies were air-dropped to the camp, and Marine reinforcements arrived, allowing Donlon and his wounded team members to be evacuated by helicopter.
Roger Donlon left Vietnam on Nov. 20, 1964. On December 5, President Lyndon Johnson awarded Donlon the Medal of Honor, the first of the Vietnam War, as Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara read the citation. All nine survivors of Team A-726 were present. Introducing them to the President, Donlon said, “The medal belongs to them too.”
Donlon later asked to go back into combat in Vietnam, but the Pentagon had learned that the Vietcong had put a bounty on his head and refused until 1972, when Donlon returned for a second tour. He retired in 1988 as a colonel with thirty-two years’ service in the Army. In 1998 Colonel Donlon wrote his autobiography, Beyond Nam Dong, which in addition to covering his thirty years in the Army also included details of his return to Vietnam as a civilian, almost twenty years after his A-camp was attacked. He lives in Kansas with his wife Norma and children.
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while defending a U.S. military installation against a fierce attack by hostile forces. Capt. Donlon was serving as the commanding officer of the U.S. Army Special Forces Detachment A-726 at Camp Nam Dong when a reinforced Viet Cong battalion suddenly launched a full-scale, predawn attack on the camp. During the violent battle that ensued, lasting 5 hours and resulting in heavy casualties on both sides, Capt. Donlon directed the defense operations in the midst of an enemy barrage of mortar shells, falling grenades, and extremely heavy gunfire. Upon the initial onslaught, he swiftly marshaled his forces and ordered the removal of the needed ammunition from a blazing building. He then dashed through a hail of small arms and exploding hand grenades to abort a breach of the main gate. En route to this position he detected an enemy demolition team of 3 in the proximity of the main gate and quickly annihilated them. Although exposed to the intense grenade attack, he then succeeded in reaching a 60mm mortar position despite sustaining a severe stomach wound as he was within 5 yards of the gun pit. When he discovered that most of the men in this gunpit were also wounded, he completely disregarded his own injury, directed their withdrawal to a location 30 meters away, and again risked his life by remaining behind and covering the movement with the utmost effectiveness. Noticing that his team sergeant was unable to evacuate the gun pit he crawled toward him and, while dragging the fallen soldier out of the gunpit, an enemy mortar exploded and inflicted a wound in Capt. Donlon’s left shoulder. Although suffering from multiple wounds, he carried the abandoned 60mm mortar weapon to a new location 30 meters away where he found 3 wounded defenders. After administering first aid and encouragement to these men, he left the weapon with them, headed toward another position, and retrieved a 57mm recoilless rifle. Then with great courage and coolness under fire, he returned to the abandoned gun pit, evacuated ammunition for the 2 weapons, and while crawling and dragging the urgently needed ammunition, received a third wound on his leg by an enemy hand grenade. Despite his critical physical condition, he again crawled 175 meters to an 81mm mortar position and directed firing operations which protected the seriously threatened east sector of the camp. He then moved to an eastern 60mm mortar position and upon determining that the vicious enemy assault had weakened, crawled back to the gun pit with the 60mm mortar, set it up for defensive operations, and turned it over to 2 defenders with minor wounds. Without hesitation, he left this sheltered position, and moved from position to position around the beleaguered perimeter while hurling hand grenades at the enemy and inspiring his men to superhuman effort. As he bravely continued to move around the perimeter, a mortar shell exploded, wounding him in the face and body. As the long awaited daylight brought defeat to the enemy forces and their retreat back to the jungle leaving behind 54 of their dead, many weapons, and grenades, Capt. Donlon immediately reorganized his defenses and administered first aid to the wounded.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: FORT LEAVENWORTH HALL OF FAME, FORT LEAVENWORTH, KANSAS.