December 5, 1964: First Medal of Honor of Viet Nam War Awarded

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A Brief History

On December 5, 1964, Captain Roger Donlon, US Army Special Forces, became the first Army Special Forces member (ever) and the first US military person to earn a Medal of Honor in the Viet Nam War.

Digging Deeper

Donlon took a roundabout path to his moment of greatness, being born in Saugerties, New York among 10 children in 1934.  Donlon joined the Air Force in 1953 after a year at the New York State College of Forestry, and was appointed to West Point in 1955.  For personal reasons Donlon quit West Point, but enlisted in the Army in 1958, then went to Officer Candidate School to receive a commission as a second lieutenant.

Donlon then joined the Special Forces in 1963, and found himself  in Viet Nam in 1964 when he defended a small US/South Vietnamese installation against an attack by a much greater force.  Donlon ran all over the battlefield under fire of small arms and grenades, and despite a serious stomach wound continued to personally fight and lead his men.  Hit again in the shoulder, Donlon not only killed numerous enemy soldiers, but also rescued injured Americans under fire, and then retrieved much needed ammunition while under fire, receiving a third wound, this time to a leg.

Incredibly, Donlon kept energetically leading the defense despite serious wounds and having to drag himself around.  When he dragged himself 175 yards to a mortar pit to direct fire on the enemy, he was wounded yet again, this time in the face and body by shrapnel.  Still not out of action, the critically wounded hero organized a reconstituted defense when the enemy retreated, and tended to the wounds of others before his own wounds.

On December 5, 1964 the authorization for the Medal of Honor came through, and the Medal was awarded in a ceremony on December 17, 1964.  Not content with mere battlefield heroics, Donlon completed his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Nebraska in 1967, and reached the rank of Colonel before retiring from the Army in 1988.  He has written 2 books about his wartime experience and lives with his wife and family in Kansas.

If there was ever a question about what a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine has to do to earn a Medal of Honor, we would direct the inquiring person to read the Medal of Honor citation of this great American hero.

Colonel Donlon, we thank you for your service and WE SALUTE YOU!

Question for students (and subscribers): Has anyone in your family ever received a Medal of Honor?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Donlon, Capt. Roger H. C. and Gen. William C. Westmoreland.  Beyond Nam Dong.  R and N Publishers, 1998.


About Author

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.