Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient
Captain Roger H. C. Donlon, US Army
Captain Donlan is the first Medal of Honor recipient in the Vietnam War.
Rank and organization: Captain, U.S. Army. Place and date: Near Nam
Dong, Republic of Vietnam, 6 July 1964. Entered service at: Fort
Chaffee, Ark. Born: 30 January 1934, Saugerties, N.Y. G.O. No.: 41, 17
December 1964. Citation: 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. His dynamic leadership,
fortitude, and valiant efforts inspired not only the American personnel
but the friendly Vietnamese defenders as well and resulted in the
successful defense of the camp. Capt. Donlon's extraordinary heroism, at
the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty are in the
highest traditions of the U.S. Army and reflect great credit upon
himself and the Armed Forces of his country.
Camp Sitman, South Korea, November 1, 1967: Maj. Roger Donlon, the first
Medal of Honor recipient in the Vietnam War, outside his headquarters
tent at the Advanced Combat Training Academy. With him is the camp's
mascot, "Lieutenant." Donlon was serving as commander of the academy,
which trained NCOs and small-unit leaders in scouting and patrolling
techniques. "We work all our students pretty hard," he said, "but nobody
ever died from overwork. You can die from not being worked hard enough."
Peter MacQueen Stars and Stripes
Roger Donlans book about his experiences, Beyond Nam Dong was published
Medal of Honor recipient Donlon heads training academy in Korea
By Hal Drake, S&S staff writer
Pacific edition, January 14, 1968
Peter MacQueen / S&S
1st Lt. Paul Wolstenholme, left, and Maj. Roger Donlon examine a Russian
PPS-4 automatic weapon at the Advanced Combat Training Academy at Camp
Sitman, South Korea, in 1967.
WITH THE U.S. 2ND INF. DIV., Korea TV Maj. Roger Donlon looked with both
bitterness and admiration at the mangled and blasted remains of what had
been two large barracks.
It had been a fast, neat job of sabotage and killing this Donlon had to
admit. The North Korean commando team came in after dusk and went out
before dawn, May 22, 1967. They had done their work with lethal
efficiency and two American soldiers were dead in a heap of shattered
"At first," said Donlon, "you admire a professional job. Then it makes
The death and sabotage was one of the first sights to greet Donlon when
he came into the U.S. 2nd Inf. Div. in May, a major for only two months.
You could spot him as a soldier anywhere. The close-cropped blond hair,
the steady blue eyes, the set and determined features, the erect posture
it's all there, to mark Donlon's profession and trade.
But when Donlon came to Korea, he did not wear two distinctive marks of
the career he chose several years ago. He left his green beret back in
Vietnam when he left in 1964 as a severely-wounded casualty. And the
blue, white-starred ribbon that marks him as a Medal of Honor winner is
not worn on his plain, no-frills uniform. An all-business soldier,
Donlon only wears his Combat Infantryman Badge.
Donlon, the first soldier to win America's highest award in the Vietnam
War, is now in Korea. But the infiltration, terrorism and sudden death
Donlon knew in another land are still part of his life. As a Special
Forces man, he appraised the bombing with a coldly professional eye. As
an American and a soldier, he felt grief and anger.
Where once the enemy was a stealthy little man named Charlie, who wore
black pajamas and fought from waist-deep paddy slime, now Donlon must
deal with an expertly silent intruder named Joe. Joe breaches barbed
wire and creeps over dead, winter-browned farmland to blast sleeping men
and attack frontline guard posts along the 18-mile sector of the
Demilitarized Zone manned by Americans.
Joe deserves a very respectful kind of enmity and Donlon knows it. But
Donlon feels that Joe has a long way to go before he can match the
Vietnamese farmer who turns into a death-dealing guerrilla at dusk.
"They (the North Koreans) are well trained, and no doubt they're very
professional. But they're not as good as the Viet Cong not yet. If you
look at that one incident, yes, they did a job. They're just not as
tough and smart as Charlie, though. And there's not as many of them,
Donlon is commander of the division's Advanced Combat Training Academy
at Camp Sitman. The name might stir visions of Belvoir or Benning. But
the campus is just a colony of tents on a bare and rugged rise, a short
distance from the armed frontier facing North Korea. Around it are hills
and flatlands stripped of cover. The area reminded Donlon of the Special
Forces camp at Nam Dong, 370 miles northeast of Saigon. While remote and
isolated, it was so seldom bothered by the Viet Cong that fellow Green
Beret wearers ribbed Donlon and his A-team about being assigned to a
On June 6, 1964, some 500 Viet Cong regulars hit it in force. Donlon,
despite wounds in the stomach, leg, shoulder and face, blasted the
attackers with his M16 rifle and moved among his American-South
Vietnamese garrison, directing a costly hand-to-hand defense.
Finally, the Communists broke off the attack and retreated. Six months
later, Donlon stood at stiff and nervous attention as the President of
the United States draped the Medal of Honor around his neck.
He says nothing about himself and very little about the battle, except
to praise the men who were with him the ones who came out, the ones who
did not. But others say much of the valor shown by Donlon.
Turning aside a question about himself, Donlon instead may quietly turn
your attention to a sign in front of his command post. It tells of how a
2nd Div. soldier, Sgt. William S. Sitman, stood almost alone against a
charging swarm of Chinese Communists during the Korean War and saved his
buddies' lives by throwing himself on an exploding grenade.
Donlon is "dean" of a tough academy, and has made it so himself. He
looks upon it as a whetstone to sharpen the basic skills of an
infantryman and a millstream to glean the gold of leadership where it
can be found. Everything centers around operations in the DMZ the tense
job of watching, snaring infiltrators, keeping disciplined nerves and
warding off the attacks that have killed 21 Americans in a year.
One hundred and fifty men at a time go through the most rigorous 19 days
Donlon can devise for them river crossings, mountain climbing, adjusting
artillery fire, and actual patrolling along the zone.
Donlon believes in personal leadership and graphic example. His first
students saw half a dozen mamushi snakes he had snared and thrown into a
cage. A sign on the cage warned the wide-eyed students, "Know Your
Enemy," and compared the slithering mamushi with Joe also a stealthy,
Donlon's students will know what an enemy weapon sounds like. He takes
them out at night and fires bursts from a Russian-made PPS-1.
How did he come by the weapon? Donlon tells how one of the 43 members of
his hand-picked faculty, a sergeant, led 10 students out on a patrol one
night, They ran right into an infiltrating North Korean patrol.
"Their weapons went south and they went north," Donlon relates. "1 got
me a whole pile of training aids."
Another of Donlon's sergeants warned his students to step carefully
around the line, still seeded with landmines left over from the war
days. He demonstrated his point that very night by stepping on a
shrapnel-throwing Bouncing Betty, depressing one prong of a rusty
detonator. The mine did not explode.
"That man volunteered to read the text at the next chaplain's call,"
Donlon had one controversial policy in effect months before he went
through the formality of getting permission from his battalion
commander. Some of his classes, he noted, were all young lieutenants
eager, fresh-faced graduates from Officers Candidate School.
For one night, they are demoted to privates. Donlon drops them into
foxholes right along the line. Anything can happen during the long night
harassment, contact with infiltrators, an attack by an enemy killer
"One youngster asked me, `Officers in foxholes?' I told him, 'Sure. When
one of your men tells you he heard something out there, you'll know what
he's talking about.' "
One other officer swore somebody was throwing rocks at him. Smiling
thinly, Donlon replied: "You'll know when one of your privates tells
you." It was a point well made; the North Koreans often throw rocks as
they try to rattle men on line into opening up and exposing their
"We work all our students pretty hard," Donlon says, "but nobody ever
died from overwork. You can die from not being worked hard enough."
Donlon rarely relaxes. There is too much hard-learned knowledge to pass
along. He can be seen most of the time striding around the campus with
the academy mascot, a scruffy-looking pup named Lieutenant, trailing at
his heels. There is always a class to teach, a field problem to
critique, a training schedule to revise.
When Donlon does sit down for a cup of coffee, it will likely he with
Sgt. 1.C. Robert L. Mahaffey, a 35-year-old veteran of two wars who is
Donlon's Tactics Committee chief.
There is little relaxed, purposeless conversation. The topic is how the
training can be improved how it can he made tougher and more
Donlon's attention is turned for a moment to a week-old copy of Pacific
Stars and Stripes. It tells of a massive demonstration outside the
Pentagon, opposing U.S. involvement in Vietnam.
"I'm glad I wasn't there," says Donlon reflectively. "I would have
really been in trouble. I don't know what's the matter with those
people. If someone hadn't gone with us, into Korea, Vietnam and every
other war we had to fight, we wouldn't be here.
"Those students. When do they study? I know one Korean soldier I'd trade
for every one of them. He had a year of college before he went in. He's
a soldier now but he still studies English whenever he can. Picks it out
of newspapers and off the radio listening to AFKN (American Forces Korea
Network). He learned President Kennedy's whole inaugural address and can
recite it to you."
Donlon is a hero in the Alvin York and Audio Murphy mold. He came from a
large, poor family in upstate New York. All of his four brothers have
served in the military and one, an Air Force technical sergeant, is
stationed in Thailand. One of three sisters keeps an encyclopedia-sized
scrapbook on Donlon.
"We never had much money but money isn't everything," he said. "We were
taught pride in ourselves and our family. Defense of freedom is
perpetual. This is what a lot of our young bucks don't understand.
Defending your country is like defending your family. I don't understand
why people won't defend their country the same way they would their
family. I wonder if they have any pride either way."