Tactical

First Medal of Honor recipient from Vietnam War dies at 89

Roger Donlon, the first American to receive a Medal of Honor for heroism during the Vietnam War, died Thursday in Leavenworth, Kansas, according to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. He was 89.

Donlon’s bravery in Vietnam during the summer of 1964 earned him the decoration, which President Lyndon B. Johnson presented him at the White House in December of that year.

The Special Forces soldier’s passing followed a 12-year battle with Parkinson’s disease, according to an obituary shared online. Donlon was just five days short of his 90th birthday.

“In my situation and every other situation that leads to the Medal of Honor, there is absolutely no input from the recipient. It’s all done by observers,” Donlon previously shared, according to the announcement of his passing. “Heroism is a product of what other people see.”

On July 6, 1964, then-Capt. Donlon was serving as the commanding officer of the Army Special Forces Detachment A-726 at Camp Nam Dong, Vietnam, about 15 miles from the border with Laos, when a Viet Cong battalion launched an early morning ambush that led to his distinguishing actions.

In a five-hour fight, Donlon directed defense operations against the assault, exposing himself to mortar shells, grenades and heavy gunfire, according to his citation. He endured multiple injuries while leading the valiant response, administering first aid and encouragement to his fellow troops, which ended with the successful defense of the camp.

Born in Saugerties, New York, Donlon enlisted in the Air Force and served from December 1953 to July 1955, according to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. He then attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, but left in 1957 to enlist in the Army the next year. Donlon commissioned as a second lieutenant after graduating from Officer Candidate School at then-Fort Benning, Georgia, and later went on to earn the “Green Beret” by completing the U.S. Army Special Warfare School at then-Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

The Special Forces officer retired at the rank of colonel in 1988. He donated his Medal of Honor to the 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) during a ceremony in 2018.

There are currently 64 Medal of Honor Recipients alive today, according to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.

Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media

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