Hot Topics

  Social Media

Subscribe in a reader


Weather Update
USASOC News Service's items Go to USASOC News Service's photostream

Join Our Mailing List

Home > UNS > 150313-01



USASOC unveils MOH display in 3rd SFG (A) dining facility

by Sgt. 1st Class Thaddius S. Dawkins II
USASOC Public Affairs

FORT BRAGG, N.C. (USASOC News Service, March 12, 2015) - As he walked into the mess hall July 6, 1964, something happened to  Capt. Roger H. Donlon and the rest of his men in Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) 726 while in Nam Dong, Vietnam. Something he and his men had earlier predicted -- "all hell broke loose."

"Our intelligence gathering capabilities were limited," Donlon, who retired as a colonel, explained. "A few days prior, some of our patrols were bringing back word that the local population was much less communicative. The medics, who were normally welcomed every place we went, were saying that the locals were almost stone cold. There were village chiefs that were kidnapped and a couple of them had been assassinated. That was an indication that something was getting ready to happen. We were in the throes of relocating our camp and reestablishing another one closer to the Laotian border. We were supposed to have already executed that. In my mind that was the one breakdown of the enemy's intelligence."

That lone breakdown could have been the determining factor in the outcome of the battle at Nam Dong that night.

"They hit us when everybody was home," Donlon said. "I think their plan was to hit us when only half of us were home, but instead they hit us in force and we were pretty effective. They had many things in their favor; they had darkness, they surrounded the whole valley and terrorized 5,000 or more people in the villages through kidnapping, assassinations, involuntary recruitment and then they slipped in and hit us with a force of 800 to 900."

With his guard shift winding down for the night, Donlon walked towards the mess hall to check the guard schedule. As he entered the building, he was knocked down by its falling roof, which had just been hit by an enemy mortar.  As the camp came under attack by the Viet Cong, Donlon began directing defensive operations as enemy mortar shells, grenades and extremely heavy gunfire rained down on their small camp. Over the next five hours, Donlon and his Special Forces team found themselves in a fight for their lives as a massive wave of enemy soldiers attempted to overrun their base.

"We were just targeting them as they came in," he said. "At one point, our guys were throwing the enemy's grenades back at them. Everybody knows things get tight in a battle, but when you lose your buddies and your teammates, you just instinctively tighten up and pick up the slack because you owe it to those guys not to quit."

During the attack, the Special Forces captain lost both boots and all of his equipment due to the nearby mortar explosions. He also suffered wounds to his arm and stomach. As the enemy continued its assault, Donlon moved from position to position encouraging his men to continue to fight while resupplying their ammunition. As he attempted to care for a wounded team sergeant, another mortar impacted, injuring his shoulder and killing the team sergeant.
Undaunted by his own wounds and personal safety, Donlon then treated four wounded Nungs (Chinese descendants) so they could continue to fight and directed the repositioning of his remaining force to secure areas of the camp.

"During our training at Fort Bragg, we promised ourselves if we ever got into a box, we would go down fighting," Donlon said about his team's unwillingness to quit. "It's easy to say and think about, but it was one of the promises we made to ourselves. We had to live by our word we gave to each other. That night, my guys lived and they died by those words."

Wounded multiple times, Donlon continued to direct the firepower of his remaining weapons and with flares dropped by U.S. aircraft, he was able to keep the enemy from overrunning Nam Dong until Marine reinforcements and air-dropped supplies arrived. After the intense combat resulting in heavy losses for both sides, Donlon and the surviving members of ODA-726 were evacuated by helicopter.

On Dec. 5, 1965, Donlon was awarded the Medal of Honor from President Lyndon B. Johnson, making him the first Medal of Honor recipient in the Vietnam War.

"I didn't believe it when I heard the news," Donlon said. "I didn't think it would be possible. I sighed, hoped and prayed it would have been 'Pop' Alamo and John Houston, who gave their lives during the battle. That was my recommendation but they both received Distinguished Service Crosses. That's all the more reason I have a responsibility to live an honorable life, because I'm wearing it on behalf of those men. It's hard to put into words the feelings when we are designated to receive such an honor."

"His story is a tremendous story," said Lt. Gen. Charles T. Cleveland, commanding general, U.S. Army Special Operations Command. "You cannot listen to what, then- Captain Donlon did at his A-camp and not get goose bumps and realize what a special person he is and the special people he was surrounded with."

On March 10, 2015, more than 50 years after Donlon's heroic actions, USASOC unveiled its new Medal of Honor display located in the 3rd Special Forces Group's (Airborne) dining facility. The display pays homage to all of USASOC's brave men who have earned the prestigious medal.

Donlon, who was USASOC's guest of honor during the unveiling, said he was honored to be a part the event.

"I'm not interested in what the USASOC Medal of Honor display will do for my legacy, but for what it might do for the legacy of the regiment," Donlon said. "To be in such an honored position is a blessing that I never thought would come my way."

Since retiring from the Army in 1988, Donlon and his wife, Norma, have dedicated their time giving back to the military, Army Special Operations Forces and the people of Vietnam.

"When my career was coming to an end, I mentioned to Norma that she's never had the opportunity to decide where we were going to live, so I let her decide," Donlon said. "She chose Leavenworth, Kan. It was a great decision. The Army Command and General Staff College is there. I was on the faculty and I was the director of all foreign students from 50 nations at one time."

Along with mentoring U.S. and foreign Soldiers at the Army Command and General Staff College, the Donlons also take time to speak to groups of Soldiers who suffer from something very important to the both of them, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

After her first husband was killed in the Vietnam War, Norma suffered from PTSD but didn't even realize it until years later.

"As a widow of war, a Soldier's husband and also the mother of a Soldier who's served in combat, I want to say to everyone, if you need help when you get home, get it," Norma Donlon stressed. "You owe it to yourself and you owe it to your family. Everybody has some form of PTSD. I had it, but didn't even realize I had it until I remarried, which was almost four years after my first husband was killed. When Roger  (Donlon) volunteered to go to Vietnam, all of a sudden the PTSD sat in for me."

"PTSD happens with every generation but we are much more prepared today to overcome the feelings of guilt, survival and seek the help that's there and ready to be offered," Roger Donlon added. "That takes a different measure of courage to seek that help. I've been down that road and many of my friends have been down it as well."

It's these things, along with others that Donlon has done after the battle ended that make his wife even more proud of the man he is.

"Roger has done things beyond that battle," Norma Donlon said. "That's the pivotal moment in which someone is awarded the medal, for what they did in battle. But it's what they do after the battle's over that I think is really important in their lives. Roger has done reconciliation projects with the Vietnamese, he provides scholarships for students who study to be doctors and he has built a library and a learning center at the site of the battle in Nam Dong, Vietnam. Those are wonderful projects that have lasting effects into the future."