The following is an excerpt from the book ‘Above and Beyond – A History of the Medal of Honor from the Civil War to Vietnam’, 1985 Boston Publishing Company.
“On July 5, 1964, many of the twelve Green Berets manning the camp at Nam Dong were convinced that their post was about to be attacked. Nam Dong’s location in the central highlands of South Vietnam, only twenty-four kilometers from Laos, invited constant probing by VC and NVA troops infiltrating over the border. In the past two days, patrols had encountered evidence of a greater enemy presence, including the bodies of two murdered village chiefs. Also, a recent scuffle between the South Vietnamese troops and the montagnard natives of the highlands had fragmented the force, and this infighting had probably come to the attention of the enemy. By the night of the fifth, the mood was one of jittery anticipation: One American wrote his wife, “All hell is going to break loose here before the night is over.”
Early the next morning Captain Roger H.C. Donlon was finishing his patrol of the American sector of the camp. A native of New York State, Donlon had enlisted in the Army in 1958 after two years in the Air Force and one year at West Point. Now, after training at the Army’s Special Forces school at Fort Bragg, he was commander of Detachment A-726 at Nam Dong, numbering over 300 men, mostly South Vietnamese and montagnards. Donlon also expected an attack that night, but as he walked around the camp at 2:25 A.M., all was quiet, leading him to think that perhaps he had been wrong.
Moments later Captain Donlon’s worst fears were confirmed. An enemy mortar round whistled into the camp, destroying the mess hall Donlon was about to enter. Another shell hit the command post, setting it on fire. Small-arms fire and explosions erupted in the darkness around the camp.
A nearby mortar explosion knocked Donlon to the ground. Pulling himself up, he scrambled to a mortar pit, grabbed a flare gun, and fired, only to hear the shell fizzle out in the darkness. He moved to the next emplacement for more rounds.
In the light of another flare, Donlon saw three VC sappers – guerrillas wired with explosives – lurking near the gate. He set his AR15 rifle on semi-automatic and squeezed off six rounds, then threw a hand grenade, killing all three of the raiders.
As Donlon ran for the next pit a grenade exploded near him, driving shrapnel into his left arm and stomach. Despite his wounds, he visited three additional emplacements, helping his men direct fire at guerrillas trying to scale or blast through the fence. He was hit again by gragments from at least three mortar blasts, which wounded his leg and side. Bleeding heavily now, Donlon made for another pit, where he and three other Americans continued firing. The pit was, in Donlon’s words, “a hellhole.” The VC had overrun part of the outer sector of the camp and threatened to breach the inner American perimeter. Grenades were now coming over the fence five or six at a time.
As the onslaught continued, the four men prepared to evacuate the bunker. Donlon fired cover as two men fled, but the third, Master Sergeant Gabriel Alamo, was too badly wounded to move. Donlon started to pull Alamo up the steps of the pit just as a mortar round landed at the top of the stairs in front of the captain’s face. Donlon remembered screaming as he took the brunt of the explosion. “I am going to die, I thought. The screaming . . . was the wail of death.”
Donlon did not die, but he was badly hurt, bleeding from wounds to the left shoulder, head, and stomach. He checked Alamo, but the sergeant had been killed by the blast. Donlon ran over to some mantagnards and tended to their wounds, tearing his T-shirt for bandages and using one of his socks as a tourniquet. Ordering the mean to cover him, he scuttled over to another bunker, bent over by the pain of his stomach wounds. After getting a report on the defense of the camp, he was hit again by shrapnel but did not stop for treatment, instead directing his men in the darkness.
An American flareship arrived at 4:00 A.M. but the enemy persisted. From the dark jungle a voice called in Vietnamese and then in English. “Lay down your weapons!” the voice said. “We are going to annihilate your camp! You will all be killed!” But Captain Donlon and the defenders of Nam Dong held out. By daylight what was left of the enemy force, later estimated at over 800, had retreated, leaving over 50 dead. Captain Donlon was directing the treatment and evacuation of the wounded, including, finally, himself. By the end of the year Donlon had recovered from his wounds and was called to the White House to receive the first Medal of Honor for the Vietnam War.”
Thank you Captain Roger Donlon for your service, you can hear Roger tell his story here: