National Congressional Medal of Honor Day on Friday, March 25, is a special memorial day when recipients of the Medal of Honor gather each year at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery to commemorate their fallen brethren. Among those warriors who have received our nation’s highest award for valor in combat is retired Army Colonel Roger Donlon, who’s considered a legend. This exceptional article is by Alex Quade and posted on the Daily Caller.
The first Medal of Honor recipient for the Vietnam War, Donlon is also the first Special Forces commando to
receive the award. Now 82 years old and suffering from Parkinson’s disease due to his exposure to Agent Orange,
Col. Donlon invited this reporter into his home in Leavenworth, Kansas, for an exclusive, wide-ranging and
straight-talking interview on his life’s lessons: the importance of values, character, mentoring, Special Forces,
and the Medal of Honor. Some surprises came up during the interview, including an impromptu, close quarters knife
Col. Donlon even shared a story never told: how he almost made national headlines in 1965 for a comment about
Vietnam War protesters at the White House and his AR-15, which at the time — as he surmises — members of the press
did not understand, so they didn’t publish it. This three-part special video interview contains never before seen
historical photographs as well.
Donlon received the Medal from President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. Here is his 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 60mm
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 gunpit 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 gunpit, an enemy mortar exploded and
inflicted a wound in Capt. Donlon’s left shoulder. Although suffering from multiple wounds, he carried the
abandoned 60mm 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 57mm 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 on his leg by an enemy hand grenade. Despite his critical physical
condition, he again crawled 175 meters to an 81mm mortar position and directed firing operations which protected
the seriously threatened east sector of the camp. He then moved to an eastern 60mm mortar position and upon
determining that the vicious enemy assault had weakened, crawled back to the gun pit with the 60mm 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 are in the highest traditions of the U.S. Army and reflect
great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of his country.
Video Interview - Part One. Col. Donlon, who suffers from Agent Orange-related Parkinson’s Disease, invited me to
his home in Leavenworth, Kansas, for an intimate, one-of-a-kind discussion on mentoring, values, finding your
moral compass, and family. He and his wife Norma also shared their private collection of historical photos,
documents, and mementos.
Video Interview - Part Two. Inspiration, impact and leadership — Medal of Honor recipient Col. Roger Donlon
offers exclusive insights in part two of our video discussion ahead of National Congressional Medal of Honor Day,
this Friday. The humble Green Beret received the first Medal of Honor of the Vietnam War, as well as the first for
special operations forces. In this part two of three, we hear Col. Donlon’s candid views on the role of
reporters, faith and the Church, the role of Special Forces, and character development. What we, as an audience
discover from the interview, is a character-driven and courage-driven life with lessons that cross over beyond the
military to the broader public, as well as to school children.
Video Interview - Part Three. Medal of Honor recipient and Special Forces Colonel Roger Donlon emphasizes the
importance of taking the time to mentor each other in Part Three of my exclusive video interview. He also shares
stories publicly for the first time of other Special Forces legends and character development, as part of the lead
up to Friday’s National Congressional Medal of Honor Day.
Col. Donlon discusses the man who mentored him: Col. Aaron Bank, who’d served with the OSS (Office of Strategic
Services) during World War II, which is the precursor to modern-day Special Forces and the CIA. Bank is considered
the father of Special Forces.
Donlon, in turn, mentored another Green Beret legend: Col. Robert L. Howard, who was nominated for the Medal of
Honor three times and was one of the most highly decorated soldiers in American history. Col. Donlon also remarks
on how Col. Howard decided to mentor me, a war reporter, and why (a seemingly unlikely candidate, as I was neither
a Ranger, nor Green Beret, nor male).
“I watched him give you polite, and then some more direct guidance at times,” Donlon says with a smile on camera.
“That’s a nice way of putting it,” I reply. “Some people might say not so polite,” Donlon laughs. “It was more
direct. But straight from the heart and straight from his shoulders.”
Donlon admonishes every one of us has that responsibility in life: to mentor others.
“But before you can become a mentor, you become a proven leader. Then you’re able to look in the rear-view mirror
and say, ‘Hey I see some leadership qualities in somebody else,’ and you reach out and mentor them, be pro-
active,” Donlon says.
Donlon also points out the importance of finding your “true North”, and sticking to your “moral compass.” “What we
are is God’s gift to us,” Donlon says. “What we become, is our gift to God.”
The 82-year-old suffers from Agent Orange related Parkinson’s Disease. Donlon was the first recipient of the Medal
of Honor for the Vietnam War, and the first for any special operations forces commando.
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