Captain Roger H.C. Donlon was the first person to be awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in Nam Dong on July 6, 1964.
Roger Hugh Charles Donlon, first Medal of Honor recipient from Vietnam War, died on January 28, 2024. He at 89.
Born on January 30, 1934, Donlon recalled his early life in an interview saying,” I was blessed to be born into an Irish Catholic family in Saugerties, New York. I’m number eight out of 10 kids and grew up in an environment where service was emphasized.
Daddy said, “Don’t be afraid to work hard,” and he showed by example. I started by learning how to make kindling and build the fire for the hot-water heater. Once I mastered that, I’d qualified to stoke the fire in the furnace. So you had to earn your way to do chores.”
Roger took living a life of service seriously and after spending a year at the New York State College for Forestry at Syracuse University he joined the United States Airforce and was then admitted to West Point in 1955. Although Donlon was not able to complete his studies at West Point due to personal reasons in 1958 he re-enlisted and attended officer candidate school, served as a general’s aide, and in August 1963 Donlon joined the special forces.
Less than a year later, in May 1964 Donlon’s special forces team was sent to Vietnam and established an outpost in Nam Dong about 15 miles from the border of Laos.
In the early morning hours of July 6, 1964, the base was attacked by a large force of Vietcong, Donlon led the operations at the camp. The fighting lasted five hours and the special forces team took on many casualties but they all agreed to keep fighting.
In the video below Roger Donlon tells the story of that night and of being informed that he would be the first person serving in the Vietnam War to receive the Medal of Honor.
While home on leave for Thanksgiving in 1964 Donlon received the call to report to the White House on December 5, 1964.
The Vietnam War and the Medal of Honor would not be the end of Donlon’s military career. He went on to spend over 30 years in the Army and received multiple awards and decorations throughout his career including a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. In 1985 he retired with the rank of Colonel.
Just 5 days shy of his 90th birthday on January 25, 2024, Roger Donlon died in Leavenworth, Kansas. If you do a search on Roger Donlon you will see 32 pages of results, that is how well respected and admired this brave man remains.
Roger Donlon Medal of Honor 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 five 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 three in the proximity of the main gate and quickly annihilated them. Although exposed to the intense grenade attack, he then succeeded in reaching a 60-mm mortar position despite sustaining a severe stomach wound as he was within five yards of the gun pit. When he discovered that most of the men in this gun pit 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 gun pit, an enemy mortar exploded and inflicted a wound in Capt. Donlon’s left shoulder. Although suffering from multiple wounds, he carried the abandoned 60-mm mortar weapon to a new location 30 meters away where he found three wounded defenders. After administering first aid and encouragement to these men, he left the weapon with them, headed toward another position, and retrieved a 57-mm recoilless rifle. Then with great courage and coolness under fire, he returned to the abandoned gun pit, evacuated ammunition for the two weapons, and while crawling and dragging the urgently needed ammunition, received a third wound in his leg by an enemy hand grenade. Despite his critical physical condition, he again crawled 175 meters to an 81-mm mortar position and directed firing operations which protected the seriously threatened east sector of the camp. He then moved to an eastern 60-mm mortar position and upon determining that the vicious enemy assault had weakened, crawled back to the gun pit with the 60-mm mortar, set it up for defensive operations, and turned it over to two 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, is in the highest traditions of the U.S. Army and reflects great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of his country.
Copied from the Congressional Medal of Honor Society website.
The footage of Captain Roger Donlon receiving the Medal of Honor from President Lyndon B. Johnson is included in the short film Big Picture: Action Vietnam.
The Medal of Honor is the United States’ highest award for military valor in action. While over 160 years have passed since its inception, the meaning behind the Medal has never tarnished. Etched within are the very values that each Recipient displayed in the moments that mattered—bravery, courage, sacrifice, integrity. A deep love of country and a desire to always do what is right.
A distinguished award presented only to the deserving, the Medal tells a story of its own. Steeped with symbolism, the Medal of Honor was thoughtfully designed to portray the very values its Recipients displayed.
A light blue ribbon, a color of valor, is embroidered with 13 stars for the 13 original colonies.
The eagle perched at the top of the medal is a traditional symbol of the United States.
The wreath of laurel leaves, a symbol of victory, was added in 1904.
Dark green oak clusters located in each of the star’s five points represent strength.
The words “United States of America” surround the central engraving.
A simple profile of Minerva, the Helmeted Goddess of Wisdom and War, rests in the center of the medal.
Irish American Medal of Honor Recipients
Of the 3,464 Medals of Honor awarded as of September 17, 2009, an estimated 2,021 (58%) have been awarded to Irish-American recipients, more than twice the number awarded to any other ethnic group; 257 Irish-born Americans have received the Medal of Honor which represents more than half of foreign-born MOH recipients.
Medal of Honor Statistics
First Medal of Honor awarded: 1891
Number of Medals of Honor Awarded: 3,536
Number of Recipients that have received the Medal of Honor twice: 19
Number of Medal of Honor awards per Military Branch: Army: 2,458, Navy: 749, Marine Corps: 300, Air Force: 19, Coast Guard: 1.
States with the most Medal of Honor Recipients: New York: 676, Pennsylvania: 380, Massachusetts: 264, Ohio: 253, Illinois: 208.
Thank you Colonel Donlon for your service, RIP. ♦