December 5

This Day in History

Vietnam War

Dec 5, 1964:

Army Captain awarded first Medal of Honor for action in Vietnam

The first Medal of Honor awarded to a U.S. serviceman for action in Vietnam is presented to Capt. Roger Donlon of Saugerties, New York, for his heroic action earlier in the year.

Captain Donlon and his Special Forces team were manning Camp Nam Dong, a mountain outpost near the borders of Laos and North Vietnam. Just before two o'clock in the morning on July 6, 1964, hordes of Viet Cong attacked the camp. He was shot in the stomach, but Donlon stuffed a handkerchief into the wound, cinched up his belt, and kept fighting. He was wounded three more times, but he continued fighting--manning a mortar, throwing grenades at the enemy, and refusing medical attention.

The battle ended in early morning; 154 Viet Cong were killed during the battle. Two Americans died and seven were wounded. Over 50 South Vietnamese soldiers and Nung mercenaries were also killed during the action. Once the battle was over, Donlon allowed himself to be evacuated to a hospital in Saigon. He spent over a month there before rejoining the surviving members of his Special Forces team; they completed their six-month tour in Vietnam in November and flew home together. In a White House ceremony, with Donlon's nine surviving team members watching, President Lyndon B. Johnson presented him with the Medal of Honor for "conspicuous gallantry, extraordinary heroism and intrepidity at the risk of his own life above and beyond the call of duty." Donlon, justifiably proud of his team, told the president, "The medal belongs to them, too."

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