Remember veterans who served
November 10, 1999
To the editor,
On the night of July 5, 1964, one of the soldiers in Capt. Roger Donlon’s special forces team at Nam Dong, Vietnam, wrote his wife saying, “All hell is going to break loose here before the night is over.” Earlier, Capt. Donlon told his team sergeant, “Get everyone buttoned-up tight tonight, the VC are coming. I can feel it.”
It was 2:26 a.m. as Donlon finished his rounds and stepped through the screen dooor of the mess hall to check his guard roster. The 12 members of special forces Team A-726 under Donlon’s command appeared ready for the perilous struggle that, unknowing to them, would soon begin.
Suddenly, as if from nowhere, the mess hall erupted in flames. The concussion of an exploding enemy mortar threw Donlon through the door and to the ground where he saw another round hit the command post, igniting it in furious flames. From the perimeter came the sounds of small arms and machine gun fire. Nam Dong was under attack by the North Vietnamese.
Heedless of the continuing barrage of incoming mortar rounds and the flash of tracers acoss the camp, Donlon and team sergeant “Pop” Alamo began battling the blazes that threatened the camp, salvaging whatever they could. After containing the fire, additional enemy mortar rounds exploded near Donlon as shrapnel tore through his left arm and stomach.
As the battle raged for the next five hours, and in spite of his grave injuries, Donlon moved from position to position, dragging needed supplies and ammo to the defenders of Nam Dong, directing fire, and encouraging his men. Upon entering one his team’s mortar pits and finding most of his men wounded, he directed their withdrawal to a position 30 meters away, providing cover all the while. Then, while attempting to carry one of his men from the same position, Donlon was hit again by mortar fire which, in addition to further piercing his already tattered body, would kill the soldier in his arms.
Struggling 30 yards beyond an abandoned pit, Donlon found four wounded South Vietnamese soldiers who had been aiding the American effort. He used a sock as a tourniquet for one, tore his shirt into bandages for the others, then stuffed a remaining scrap of the sock into the bleeding hole in his own stomach. Before continuing on, he propped the South Vietnamese soldiers against the wall with weapons in hand, encouraging them to continue the defense. As he moved from position to position, he was hit again … and again … and again. Shrapnel pierced his leg, his face, his entire body.
But with remarkable vigilance and determination, he overcame both fatigue and injury to continue to lead his men, tend their wounds, direct their fire, and personally defend what he called the “Outpost of Freedom.”
When morning dawned, the five-hour battle concluded, 55 South Vietnamese were dead and another 65 were wounded. Two Americans were also killed in the treacherous battle. But, even in the face of these losses and the great odds stacked against them, the defenders at Nam Dong led by Capt. Donlon prevailed, out-maneuvering and out-fighting a reinforced battalion of enemy soldiers that outnumbered the Americans and South Vietnamese 3 to 1.
Because of their unrelenting bravery that night, Donlon’s team would become one of the most highly decorated units in U.S. Army history. On Dec. 5, 1964, all nine surviving members of Team A-726 joined Donlon in the East Ballroom of the White House as President Lyndon Johnson hung the Medal of Honor around the team leader’s neck. The humble hero introduced them all to the president saying, “The medal belongs to them, too.” Later he would write of that night, “It was a team effort, and I was simply the designated leader.”
The selfless service and astounding bravery of Capt. Donlon is a testament to the fighting spirit of the millions of American veterans who have served in the years before and sense. Like Capt. Donlon, all of the men and women who served America in the Armed Services have been asked to sacrifice mightily in defense of the freedom and liberty that America claims as its own.
Today, as we celebrate Veterans Day, it is important that we all are mindful of the many sacrifices that all of our veterans have made. While few can claim conquests as bold as Capt. Donlon, every veteran has sacrificed greatly and each deserves our timeless thanks and gratitude for their service on behalf of this nation.
U.S. Congressman, Colorado