In the early hours of the 6th July 1964, Captain Roger Donlon heroically led the defense of the Special Forces camp at Nam Dong against a reinforced Battalion of Viet Cong
. In so doing, he became not only the first winner of the Medal of Honor of the Vietnam War, but also the first Special Forces
recipient of America’s highest award for bravery.
Donlon was sent to Vietnam in May 1964 as commander of Special Forces Detachment A-726. Based in Nam Dong, in the southwest of Thua Thien province (I Corps
), his 12-man team was tasked with advising and training two CIDG
strike force companies (311 men).
At 2.26am on 6th July the Viet Cong launched a surprise attack, striking the Command Post with a barrage of mortar rounds fired on the camp. During the ensuing five-hour battle Donlon showed immense courage, risking his own life to help the wounded. He single-handedly killed a three-man sapper team at the front gate and despite sustaining a severe stomach wound, covered the withdrawal of a mortar team. Whilst valiantly attempting to drag his wounded team sergeant, Gabriel “Pop” Alamo, out of danger an exploding mortar round struck him in the shoulder and killed his comrade. Rather than accept first aid Donlon continued to move around the camp, encouraging his troops and managing to drag much needed supplies of ammunition to gun positions. Despite being outnumbered three-to-one Donlon’s team1
managed to hold the Nam Dong camp, but the five hours of relentless fighting took the lives of fifty-five of its defenders and left another sixty-five wounded. Among those killed were two Americans and AATTV
advisor WO2 Kevin Conway, Australia’s first combat death of the Vietnam War.2
For his extraordinary heroism Captain Donlon was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Lyndon Johnson at The White House on 5th December 1964. Team members Sgt. Gabriel Alamo and Sp4 Jon Houston were both posthumously awarded The Distinguished Service Cross.
In March 1967 Donlon was promoted to Major before being assigned to the 2nd Infantry Division in South Korea, where he commanded the Advanced Combat Training Academy that trained NCOs in scouting and patrolling techniques. He returned to South Vietnam for a second tour in January 1972 as a District Senior Advisor in Kien Hoa Province. However, after another mortar attack he was evacuated with a detached retina, but returned to active service in Thailand
In 1998 Colonel Donlon wrote his autobiography, Beyond Nam Dong
, which in addition to covering his thirty years in the Army also included details of his return to Vietnam as a civilian, almost twenty years after his A-camp was attacked.
1. In addition to the combined 13-man U.S. Special Forces and AATTV team, the inner perimeter of the camp was also defended by 60 Nung guards.
2. The first Australian military death of the Vietnam War occurred on 1st June 1963 when AATTV Sergeant William Hacking was accidentally killed.
Further InformationRoger Donlon Interview (2007)Vietnam Studies - U.S. Army Special Forces 1961-1971
(Department of the Army, pp. 55-56, 1989)