Born and raised in New York, Roger Donlon enlisted the Air Force and served for nearly two years before earning admission into West Point.
After a change of heart, Donlon left the program and re-enlisted into the Army — eventually qualifying for a position in the Special Forces community.
In 1964, Donlon was shipped off to Vietnam as a combat advisor to the South Vietnamese troops.
Days before the massive firefight that would earn him the Medal of Honor, SF troops believed a conflict was brewing after a shootout took place between the South Vietnamese and their advisors at their base camp.
After investigating the deadly event, the it appeared the shootout’s origin started with one of the South Vietnamese troops Donlon was training — a VC sympathizer.
But they only realized that after the dust settled.
On Jul. 6, 1964, Donlon was on guard duty when the first enemy rounds started ripping through the American defenses.
Encountering a massive force, Donlon coordinated countermeasures with his men while the enemy announced over a P.A. system instructing the South Vietnamese troops to lay down their weapons as they only wanted to kill the Americans.
At this point, many of the VC sympathizers did as the voice had commanded them.
Moments later, Donlon spotted a zapper — or an enemy infiltrator — attempting to breach the front gate. He dashed toward them for a closer shot, but as he engaged his rifle — he realized he was out of ammo. He quickly yelled to a mortar pit nearby for a resupply. They tossed him need rounds, but they were still in a cardboard box.
Without hesitation, Donlon loaded three rounds into his magazine and successfully engaged the enemy.
Facing a force of hundreds against the U.S. and ARVN dozens, Donlon and his men all agreed not to quit, and they would fight it out until the end.
That commitment drove Donlon to continue to coordinate defenses while running from position to position, resupplying his men. After five long hours and sustaining heavy losses, the allied forces managed to render a victory and hold their base camp.
After going home on leave for Thanksgiving, the phone rang and Donlon was informed his presence was wanted at the White House to receive the Medal of Honor.
Donlon was awarded the Medal of Honor on Dec. 5, 1964 — making him the first recipient of the MoH during the Vietnam War.
Check out Medal of Honor Book‘s video below to watch and hear Donlon’s heroic story for yourself.