First Vietnam War Veteran To Receive Medal Of Honor Dies At 89


John Oyewale Contributor
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A U.S. Army Captain who was the first Vietnam War veteran to receive the highest U.S. military honor died Thursday in northeast Kansas aged 89, the Washington Post reported.

Capt. Roger Donlon, who died in Leavenworth, had Parkinson’s disease linked to exposure to the toxic military herbicide Agent Orange, Donlon’s second wife Norma Shinno Donlon said, according to the report.

Capt. Donlon reportedly became the first Medal of Honor recipient from the Vietnam War for defending Camp Nam Dong, a South Vietnamese army outpost on Vietnam’s border with Laos, from rampaging communist Viet Cong forces in 1964.

An 800-odd Viet Cong guerilla force attacked Nam Dong with a barrage of mortars, grenades, and machine gunfire in the small hours of July 6, 1964, the report noted. Capt. Donlon was the commanding officer of a 12-member  U.S. Special Forces Team A-726 at the time. The Special Forces alongside 300 South Vietnamese forces and an Australian military adviser defended the base.

Capt. Donlon administered emergency aid to wounded fellow soldiers using strips from his shirt and one of his socks as bandages and tourniquets while also taking out two enemy fighters, as the assault raged on and the Viet Cong called for the base to surrender or be overrun. The heavy fire forced back the U.S. helicopters trying to bring in reinforcements. Help broke through at dawn by way of airstrikes destroying the Viet Cong positions. At least 57 South Vietnamese soldiers, two American soldiers, the Australian military adviser, and over 60 of the Viet Cong guerillas perished in the battle. Capt. Donlon, thrice wounded and narrowly escaping being directly hit by a mortar, survived. (RELATED: McCain Remembered From Arizona Highway Overpasses To The Site Of His Fateful Crash In Vietnam)

His retina was severely injured in battle during a second stint in Vietnam in 1972. Returning to the U.S. as antiwar protests soared, he served as a trainer and adviser before retiring as a colonel in 1988.

Capt. Donlon recalled the battle of Nam Dong in his 1965 book, Outpost of Freedom, and his 1998 memoir, Beyond Nam Dong.

Born in Saugerties, N.Y., on Jan. 30, 1934, Capt. Donlon initially trained to be an Air Force pilot but left after failing eye tests. He later joined the Army in 1958.

With Capt. Donlon’s death, there are now 63 Medal of Honor recipients still alive.