Captain Roger Donlon, 1st MOH Recipient of the Vietnam War

By Faye Higbee

The Battle of Nam Dong – A twelve man Special Forces team known as Team A-726 buttoned up tight after Captain Roger Donlon felt the Viet Cong were planning to attack. Just two days before, the camp at Nam Dong experienced a shootout with a Viet Cong sympathizer who had infiltrated the people the Special Forces team were supposed to train. So they knew a battle was on the horizon. The villagers were nervous, and so were the 311 South Vietnamese soldiers and 40 ethnic Chinese (known as Nungs) that rounded out the contingent at Nam Dong. At 2:26 a.m., the attack came in the form of mortar rounds that exploded the command post and set buildings ablaze. It was only the beginning.

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July 6, 1964, Nam Dong, Vietnam

Heedless of the continuing barrage of incoming mortar rounds and the flash of tracers across the camp, Donlon and team sergeant “Pop” Alamo began battling the blazes that threatened the camp, salvaging whatever they could. That done, Captain Donlon raced for one of the mortar pits. Suddenly an enemy mortar exploded near his feet, tossing him into the air. Despite the concussive force that had literally blown off one of his boots and left him fighting dizziness, Donlon crawled into the mortar pit just in time to hear Sgt. John Houston call out, “They’re over here! By the ammo bunker.” As the fearless Captain left his shelter to assist Houston a third mortar round exploded near him. Donlon lost his other boot and all of his equipment except his AR-15 rifle and two magazines. Worse, shrapnel had seriously wounded him in his left arm and stomach. He managed to force his battered body to another mortar pit from which he could see enemy soldiers only 20 yards from the main gate. Sgt. Houston was dead, Donlon severely wounded, and the enemy seemed to keep on coming.

For five hours Captain Donlon moved from position to position, dragging needed supplies and ammo to the defenders of Nam Dong, directing fire, and encouraging his men. Upon entering one of his team’s own mortar pits and finding most of the men wounded, he directed their withdrawal to a position 30 meters away and provided cover fire for them. Then, while attempting to drag the severely wounded Pop Alamo from the same position, he was hit again by mortar fire that wounded him in the shoulder and killed his team sergeant. Struggling 30 yards further from the abandoned pit, he found four wounded Nungs lying beside a brick wall. He used a sock as a tourniquet for one, tore his shirt into bandages for the others, then stuffed a remaining scrap into the bleeding hole in his stomach. Before continuing on he propped them against the wall with weapons in their hands, encouraging them to continue the defense. As he moved from position to position, he was hit again…and again…and again. Shrapnel pierced his leg, his face, his entire body. But with determination, he battled the fatigue and wounds to continue to lead his men, tend their wounds, direct their fire, and personally defend his “Outpost of Freedom”.

When morning dawned, the five-hour battle had left 55 of the South Vietnamese and Nung defenders of Nam Dong dead, another 65 wounded. Pop Alamo and John Houston were also dead, never to witness the birth of children their pregnant wives were bearing at home. But the defenders at Nam Dong had held through the night, outnumbered at least 3 to 1 by a reinforced battalion of enemy soldiers. Donlon’s team would become one of the most highly decorated units in Army history. In addition to Donlon’s award, our Nation’s second highest medal for military valor The Distinguished Service Cross was presented posthumously to Alamo and Houston. Four team members were awarded the Silver Star, the other five team members each received the Bronze Star with “V” for valor.

Home of Heroes

Captain Roger Donlon originally enlisted in the Air Force in 1953, serving two years. He earned admission to West Point. Two years later, he left the Military Academy and enlisted in the Army. After completing Officer Candidate School, he eventually qualified for Army Special Forces. He was sent to Vietnam and became the first of 238 military service members who were recipients of the nation’s highest honor from the Vietnam War.

Some of those who fought in the Vietnam War came home decades later in flag-draped coffins. The living vividly remember being spit on and called “baby killers.” We’ve written about the heroes, the unknowns, and some of the battles. March 29 is Vietnam Veteran’s Day. Honor is due all of our warfighters, no matter what war they may have endured. Say thank you today!

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Featured photo: screenshot of Roger Donlon, MOH recipient and his medal

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