Vietnam War’s first Medal of Honor recipient dies in Leavenworth

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Vietnam War’s first “Medal of Honor” recipient passed away early Thursday morning in Leavenworth, Kansas. His family says Colonel Roger Donlon (Rtd) died following a 12-year battle with Agent Orange Parkinson’s Disease, he would have turned 90 next week.

Col. Donlon was also the first Special Forces soldier to receive the honor. He’s credited with saving countless lives when in 1964, his unit was ambushed at Camp Nam Dong by enemy forces.

Donlon and 11 others on his special forces team led the way. The first blast in the battle wounded Donlon, but he fought on. In all, he would suffer four wounds, and watch one of his men die in his arms as he tried to rescue him from a mortar pit.

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Marine reinforcements would arrive later, and after five hours, the Battle of Nam Dong was over. Donlon marveled at how the camp, out-manned three-to-one, had been able to hold its position and vanquish the enemy.

President Lyndon Johnson placed the Medal of Honor around his neck at a ceremony in December of 1964. A humble Col. Donlon says he told the Commander in Chief that he accepted not for himself, but for his entire team ambushed in that nighttime raid.

Col. Donlon recovered from his wounds and continued to serve in the Army.

FOX4 did a special report on Col. Donlon on the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Nam Dong in July of 2014. You can read it here and watch the story in the video player on this page. You’ll learn how Col. Donlon would find peace at what he’d experienced and would return to help “build bridges” between old enemies by raising money for schools in that war torn country. And how he would met the commander who planned the raid on Donlon’s men.

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Col. Donlon retired after 33 years of service and moved to Leavenworth in 1988. He and his wife raised five children, including two sons who served in the Army and one who served in the Navy.

According to his obituary, visitation will be at Leintz Funeral Home in Leavenworth on Monday, January 29 between 6 and 8 p.m. A Mass of Christian Burial will be at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Leavenworth on Tuesday at 10:30 a.m.

He’ll also have a celebration of life on April 10 at 1 p.m. at the Frontier Conference Center with a burial to follow at Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery. Donations to the Gary Sinise Foundation are welcome in lieu of cards or flowers.

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