The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • Medal and more: Honors keep coming for decorated Leavenworth veteran

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  • The deeds performed by America’s first hero in the Vietnam War happened 50 years ago Sunday.
    And, since July 6, 1964, then-Capt. Roger Donlon has not stopped garnering honors.
    He, wife Norma, and several granddaughters were at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida last week for his latest honor. As leader of Special Forces team A-726 50 years ago, he was assigned to the 7th Special Forces Group, headquartered today at Eglin.
    The team of two officers and 10 enlisted men was augmented by an Australian warrant officer, an American civilian anthropologist, and a group of indigenous fighters. His citation for the Medal of Honor, the longest citation of the Vietnam War in the official Medal of Honor Recipients book, reads:
    “Capt. Donlon was serving as commanding officer at Camp Nam Dong when a reinforced Viet Cong battalion suddenly launched a full-scale predawn attack on the camp.”
    During the attack, Donlon suffered four wounds. Two Americans and the Australian warrant officer were killed, and almost all others were wounded during the hours-long battle. The Australian, WO2 Kevin Conway, was the first Australian soldier killed in Vietnam.
    Donlon was evacuated by helicopter and recovered from his multiple wounds.
    On Dec. 5, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson draped the blue ribbon holding the Medal of Honor around his neck at the White House.
    Donlon was invited to Eglin last week to receive his latest honor, with another to soon follow. The occasion was the 7th Group’s second “Red Empire Week,” several days of celebrations and honors.
    At the formal banquet, Donlon received serial number 0001 of the brand new Roger Donlon Commemorative Knife produced by the Special Forces Association.
    He was told he’ll be invited back to assist in cutting the ribbon for the new 7th Group headquarters building, which will be named Donlon Hall.
    His first assignment to Fort Leavenworth was as a Command and General Staff College student in the class of 1971.
    Two of his classmates, Lt. Col. (Ret.) Jack Walker and Lt. Col. (Ret.) Norm McLeod are also retired in Leavenworth. Donlon returned in 1978 to be a CGSC leadership instructor, and when he was promoted to colonel he became director of the CGSC International Student Division.
    He is a native of upstate New York, and Norma grew up in California.
    In 1988, when he retired, the couple agreed that of all the places they’d lived during his Army career, they preferred to raise their three sons in Leavenworth.
    His retirement ceremony was in Abrams Loop outside the old Bell Hall building, with perhaps the most Green Berets worn by Special Forces soldiers visible than before or since at Fort Leavenworth in the history of the fort.
    Page 2 of 2 - He has continued to be busy on the international, national, and local scene in retirement. He was on the University of Saint Mary Board for several years, and currently serves on the board of the CGSC Foundation.
    For several years he was a trustee and then a member of the President’s Council at the National World War I Museum in Kansas City.
    He was also the honorary president of the Special Forces Regiment, and still proudly flies the regimental flag in front of his home daily. Several years ago, a Special Forces Association chapter in California was named the Roger Donlon Chapter.
    A singular honor came in 1996 when he was inducted into the prestigious Fort Leavenworth Hall of Fame, becoming at that time the only non-general officer since the Civil War to be inducted.
    Of the 12 members of A-726, only five are still alive, and four of them, plus Minh Nguyen, the team’s interpreter, were in Eglin for the ceremonies. Nguyen lost his hearing during the war, emigrated to England and then to California.
    Donlon has made several trips back to Vietnam since the war, and each time has been treated as a hero by the Vietnamese. He long had the idea to help the people of the village of Nam Dong who had been friendly to the Americans at the camp.
    A group was formed to raise money to build a library for the village, and that goal was achieved. Donlon returned for the ribbon-cutting, and has a book about the effort to raise money for the library.
    In 1998, he authored an autobiography, "Beyond Nam Dong," that covered his 30 years as an Army officer and details some of his visits back to Vietnam.
    Last year, the Donlons were the Leavenworth sponsor family for Maj. Cuong Nguyen, the first Vietnamese officer since 1975 to attend CGSC.
    Today, the third generation of Donlons attend school in Leavenworth.
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