Vietnam War’s Inaugural Medal of Honor Awardee, Roger H.C. Donlon, Passes Away.
Photo: Then-Capt. Roger H.C. Donlon in Vietnam. (U.S. Army)
Upon enlisting in the Army in 1958, Roger H.C. Donlon, already acquainted with military life from a stint in the Air Force in 1953, embarked on a journey that would lead him to become the first Medal of Honor recipient of the Vietnam War. Leaving the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1957 after initially enrolling, Donlon chose to pursue his destiny in the Army. Following Officer Candidate School, he qualified for Special Forces and was deployed to Vietnam in 1964. It was in July of that year that he displayed exceptional courage and tenacity in defending an American training camp, earning him the prestigious Medal of Honor.
Donlon passed away on January 25, 2024, just five days shy of his 90th birthday.
In the early hours of July 6, 1964, Captain Roger Donlon found himself facing a daunting challenge. As the commander of the detachment at Nam Dong training camp in Vietnam, he was thrust into a near-fatal defence when the camp came under attack. The North Vietnamese Army, in collaboration with Viet Cong guerrillas, sought to overrun the American Special Forces training centre. This marked the first instance of such cooperation between the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong in the south.
Amid the intense firefight that ensued, Donlon, leading Vietnamese trainees along with Australian and Special Forces advisers, displayed remarkable resilience. The camp, housing 360 CIDG trainees, 12 Green Berets, and one Australian adviser, was under siege by 800 North Vietnamese troops. Donlon, on guard duty, immediately took charge, orchestrating the movement of ammunition from burning buildings and establishing defensive lines.
Despite sustaining injuries during the chaos, including a severe stomach wound, Donlon continued to lead. He thwarted a Viet Cong attack on the main gate, eliminated sappers, and provided crucial cover for the withdrawal of wounded comrades. Throughout the battle, he endured multiple wounds, including a mortar blast to his left shoulder and shrapnel in his leg.
Undeterred, Donlon crawled through enemy fire, directed mortar fire, and tirelessly moved between positions, ensuring the defence held. When helicopters finally arrived to evacuate the wounded, the toll on the enemy was significant, with about 60 troops dead, along with 57 South Vietnamese, two Americans, and their Australian adviser.
President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded Donlon the Medal of Honor on December 5, 1964, making him the first of 268 recipients during the Vietnam War. Donlon continued his military career, retiring as a colonel in 1988. Reflecting on the honour bestowed upon him, he acknowledged wearing the award on behalf of those who didn’t return, emphasizing the shared sacrifices of his fellow soldiers.
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