Born: January 30, 1934
Rank: Captain, US Army Special
Forces Detachment A-726
Location of action: Near Nam Dong, Republic
Date of action: July 6, 1964
Medal received from: President Lyndon Johnson,
December 5, 1964
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his
life above and beyond the call of duty while defending a U.S.
military installation against a fierce attack by hostile forces.
Capt. Donlon was serving as the commanding officer of the U.S.
Army Special Forces Detachment A-726 at Camp Nam Dong when a
reinforced Viet Cong battalion suddenly launched a full-scale,
predawn attack on the camp. During the violent battle that ensued,
lasting five hours and resulting in heavy casualties on both sides,
Capt. Donlon directed the defense operations in the midst of
an enemy barrage of mortar shells, falling grenades, and extremely
Upon the initial onslaught, he swiftly marshaled his forces
and ordered the removal of the needed ammunition from a blazing
building. He then dashed through a hail of small arms and exploding
hand grenades to abort a breach of the main gate. En route to
this position he detected an enemy demolition team of three in the
proximity of the main gate and quickly annihilated them. Although
exposed to the intense grenade attack, he then succeeded in
reaching a 60mm mortar position despite sustaining a severe
stomach wound as he was within five yards of the gun pit. When
he discovered that most of the men in this gunpit were also
wounded, he completely disregarded his own injury, directed
their withdrawal to a location 30 meters away, and again risked
his life by remaining behind and covering the movement with
the utmost effectiveness.
Noticing that his team sergeant was unable to evacuate the gun
pit he crawled toward him and, while dragging the fallen soldier
out of the gunpit, an enemy mortar exploded and inflicted a
wound in Capt. Donlon's left shoulder. Although suffering from
multiple wounds, he carried the abandoned 60mm mortar weapon
to a new location 30 meters away where he found three wounded defenders.
After administering first aid and encouragement to these men,
he left the weapon with them, headed toward another position,
and retrieved a 57mm recoilless rifle. Then with great courage
and coolness under fire, he returned to the abandoned gun pit,
evacuated ammunition for the two weapons, and while crawling and
dragging the urgently needed ammunition, received a third wound
on his leg by an enemy hand grenade.
Despite his critical physical condition, he again crawled 175
meters to an 81mm mortar position and directed firing operations
which protected the seriously threatened east sector of the
camp. He then moved to an eastern 60mm mortar position and upon
determining that the vicious enemy assault had weakened, crawled
back to the gun pit with the 60mm mortar, set it up for defensive
operations, and turned it over to two defenders with minor wounds.
Without hesitation, he left this sheltered position, and moved
from position to position around the beleaguered perimeter while
hurling hand grenades at the enemy and inspiring his men to
superhuman effort. As he bravely continued to move around the
perimeter, a mortar shell exploded, wounding him in the face
and body. As the long awaited daylight brought defeat to the
enemy forces and their retreat back to the jungle leaving behind
54 of their dead, many weapons, and grenades, Capt. Donlon immediately
reorganized his defenses and administered first aid to the wounded.
His dynamic leadership, fortitude, and valiant efforts inspired
not only the American personnel but the friendly Vietnamese
defenders as well and resulted in the successful defense of
the camp. Capt. Donlon's extraordinary heroism, at the risk
of his life above and beyond the call of duty are in the highest
traditions of the U.S. Army and reflect great credit upon himself
and the Armed Forces of his country.
Captain Donlan is the first Medal of Honor recipient in Vietnam.
Donlan’s book about his experiences, “Beyond Nam
Dong” was published in 1998.