The Defining Generation
Defining the New
Roger H. C. Donlon
Text from a Special Forces Training Brochure in the
Caught somewhere between the World War II generation and the Defining Generation were those young men and women who reached maturity in the 1950s. Born shortly before or during the World War, they had not experienced the difficult times of the Great Depression. During the War they were old enough to feel its impact on the world, but still too young to join the military or to even understand its full implications.
Roger Hugh Charles Donlon was born in the family home in Saugerties, New York on January 30, 1934. On his ninth birthday he received an unusual gift from his father – fifty small chickens. Years earlier Paul Donlon had raised chickens and this surprise gift a father’s attempt to direct a son’s path in his own footsteps. It also framed the important lesson for Roger that with maturity comes responsibility.
"Well Roger," the elder Donlon asked, "now that you’re in the chicken business do you know what to do?"
"No sir," Roger replied honestly.
Patiently, Paul Donlon explained the important points to his son. He noted that chicks were young, fragile, and helpless, and would need to be kept behind the kitchen stove for a while to stay warm. Roger would need to hold them, nurture them, and feed them until they were strong enough to care for themselves. He would also have to watch them carefully for any sign of dangerous rickets.
Impressed but tentative in the face of his newfound responsibility, Roger found a shoebox to store them behind the stove. To the chagrin of his mother, he carried them through the house to show them to his father in the upstairs bedroom. From the bed to which he had been confined by advancing stages of cancer, Paul Donlon seemed pleased at his son’s commitment to the helpless baby chickens
Roger accepted his responsibility with great dedication, insuring that his chicks were warm, holding them, feeding them, and checking on their welfare regularly. Slowly they matured and, as they grew, their need for his attention declined. As they became stronger and more self-sufficient, Roger built a larger coop in the garage for them.
While 49 chicks grew stronger, one demanded constant care and concern. Despite Roger’s best efforts, this one became more and more lethargic. As its condition worsened, he took it to his father for a professional opinion.
"Rickets," Paul Donlon quickly pronounced. Looking his son square in the face he continued, "You will have to kill it, Roger."
As the 9-year old entrepreneur walked slowly down the steps from his father’s bedroom his young mind was tormented with his new duty. He didn’t know how to kill a chick and had been too proud to ask for his father’s guidance in the matter. Having become adept at using a hatchet to prepare firewood for the stove, he headed for the wood shed.
Despite its weak and lethargic condition, the condemned chick would not keep its head still on the chopping block. "So I took hold of its head with one hand and its body with the other hand. I closed my eyes and twisted," Roger recalled. "I almost became sick to my stomach. But daddy had spoken. He explained it would have always been sickly and as a consequence, of no use to anyone and that it was best that it be killed. It was a dark day in my young life that I would never forget."
Roger continued to raise the remaining 49 chickens and they in turn, in the years that followed, repaid his attention by providing eggs which he was able to sell door-to-door. He reinvested some of this capitol to increase his inventory to include some Rhode Island Reds and Plymouth Rocks. The chicken business was an important part of Roger's life, providing him the opportunity to contribute to his family in a meaningful way.
When Roger was 13 years old Paul Donlon passed away. His death left Roger confused, hurt, and angry. Every time he saw his friends playing with their fathers, Roger ached to have known his own father better. The only piece of paper Roger ever owned with his dad’s signature was his Boy Scout Tenderfoot test record, signed off by his father shortly before he died.
Roger was finishing high school when war broke out in Korea, and he wanted leave school, join the Navy, and "get a piece of the action". His oldest brother Paul had served in World War II and earned the Purple Heart. Now Paul spoke words of wisdom to Roger. "Finish high school," he admonished, "go to college—there will be other wars." In time, the younger Donlon recognized the wisdom of this advice.
Roger’s egg-money savings account enabled him to enroll at New York State college of Forestry at Syracuse University after high school. It was not a good year. Roger was a better worker than he was a studier, and his grades fell rapidly. Finally, he took a year’s leave of absence deciding, "It was better to drop out for a year than hang by a thread." In 1953, one month shy of his 20th birthday, Roger Donlon enlisted in the United States Air Force.
Roger’s dream of flying for the Air Force was quickly crushed when a physical examination found his left eye possibly contained the beginning of cataracts. In his disappointment he remembered the advice of his late father. "Son, after any setback in life, get up quickly. Never let yourself become discouraged." Roger recovered from his disappointment and began what would be an 18-month quest to gain admission to the United States Military Academy at West Point. It was a monumental effort that required him to take his campaign to the halls of Congress, but the efforts paid off. On July 5, 1955, Airman First Class Roger Donlon was discharged from the Air Force and enrolled in the U.S. Military Academy.
Nine years to the day had passed since Roger Donlon enrolled at West Point. That scholastic experience had been exciting and interesting, but was one that had not been consummated. After a little more than a year Cadet Donlon left West Point to return to civilian life, bitter at his string of shattered dreams, mad at himself for his failures, and angry with the world in general. Like so many of the young people who would later define the decade of the 60s, Roger Donlon was still trying to define himself—to find his sense of meaning and purpose. He found it at last, among the men of the Army’s Special Forces, the elite Green Berets.
On this night in 1964 Captain Donlon was slowly making his way around the tiny perimeter of the Army Special Forces camp at Nam Dong, near the borders of both Laos and North Vietnam. Hidden in the distant darkness were the nine villages of the Nam Dong valley, 5,000 Asian men, women and children who were struggling to survive in the midst of a brewing war. Donlon’s 12-man A-Team had come here to help the villagers in the land of Katu Tribesmen, and ensure their survival.
The motto of the Army Special Forces is De oppresso liber – "To Free the Oppressed." The most highly trained soldiers of the United States Army had come to Vietnam with that very mission in mind. The Green Berets were to the Vietnamese, in a very real sense, much like 9-year-old Roger Donlon had been to his small chicks. They would nourish, shelter, comfort and nurture the fragile societies that were the Vietnamese people, until they could mature to sustain on their own. In the process these protectors had to closely watch for rickets, the enemy from without that threatened to destroy them.
Captain Donlon’s Detachment A-726 had arrived at Nam Dong only a month earlier, bringing with them not only a hatchet to guard against rickets, but also shovels and bandages to nurture growth. In their first few weeks at what Captain Donlon later called the "Outpost of Freedom", the men of A-726 had seen little of the enemy. Instead, their efforts had been directed more towards digging wells, building schools, tending the sick, and helping the villagers to help themselves. Of course, these men were also soldiers, serving as military advisors to a force of 311 Vietnamese soldiers who were organized into three strike companies.
As the sun set on this summer night, Staff Sergeant Merwin Woods, a member of Donlon’s Team, sat in his bunker writing a letter to his wife. "All hell is going to break loose here before the night is over," he wrote before he turned in to try and catch some sleep. At two o’clock in the morning, Captain Donlon arose to take his turn at guard duty. He was replacing Warrant Officer Kevin Conway, an Australian advisor operating in Vietnam much like his American counterparts.
All of the men were having trouble sleeping this night. There was a sense that something big was in the wind. The previous night Sergeant Michael Disser had been patrolling with some night fighters when he radioed back to the camp that: "The villagers are scared, but they won’t tell me or my interpreters why." When dawn broke on Sunday morning, Sergeant Terry Terrin returned from a three-day patrol with disturbing news. His men had found the bodies of two murdered village chiefs; one of them had been systematically killed in his own doorway. Throughout the afternoon on Sunday, tension ran high in the basecamp, culminating in a confrontation between members of the Vietnamese strike force and the Nungs, ethnic Chinese mercenaries who served as bodyguards for the members of Special Forces in South Vietnam.
As Captain Donlon slowly made his rounds of the camp’s perimeter, he was shadowed beyond the barbed wire by a Vietnamese Special Forces soldier. The pattern was routine. The two would encircle the camp, and then meet at the main gate.
The brief circuit took less than half an hour and the time passed uneventfully. Clad in his black pajamas, T-shirt, and the jacket of his green nylon jungle suit, Captain Donlon waited for his Vietnamese counterpart to meet him and then opened the gate to admit him. So far this was a night like any other.
Captain Donlon strolled towards the mess tent. Inside there would be coffee and, more importantly, the guard roster that would tell him whom to awaken at 0400 hours to relieve him. He glanced down at his watch as he neared the doorway. It was 2:26 A.M. on Monday, July 6, 1964. As the Special Forces commander reached out to open the door there was a blinding flash of light as an enemy white phosphorus mortar shell hit the roof of the mess hall. The force of the explosion knocked Captain Donlon backwards and to the ground.
In the nearby dispensary Sergeant Thomas Gregg, one of the team’s two medics, rolled out of bed with the sound of the first explosion. Rushing outside with his 5-shot pump shotgun he ducked behind an old shower room, now being used to store medical supplies. Smoke swirled in the early morning darkness amid the sudden rain of enemy mortars. The incoming explosive shells filled the air with brilliant flashes that cast a spectacular light show across the small compound. Flames from the quickly burning mess hall reflected though clouds of smoke, and not more than 20 yards away Sergeant Gregg could see six shapes moving towards the fence. The shotgun boomed once, again, and then a third time as the Viet Cong soldiers were blown backwards in death. The medic turned back towards his dispensary, now also engulfed in flames. He rushed inside to try and salvage what medical supplies he could before the fire consumed them. From the looks of things, they would be needed.
Captain Donlon shook off the effects of the first explosion only to find his Team the object of an ever-increasing rain of mortar fire. In the communications room, Staff Sergeant Keith Daniels was on the radio requesting a flare ship and air strike from DaNang, half an hour distant. The supply room took a direct hit and, fearing the commo shack would be next, Daniels grabbed his AR-15 rifle and raced for the door. He threw himself outside and into the inferno, flying face down on the dirt as the room he had just vacated evaporated in a flash of intense fire.
Captain Donlon and his team sergeant, Master Sergeant Gabriel Ralph Pop Alamo turned their attention to the Command Post, now awash in flame. Smaller explosions rocked the supply room as the two men struggled to salvage what ammunition and grenades they could. As they feverishly worked against time, Sergeant First Class Vernon Beeson ran towards them to lend a hand.
Around the perimeter other members of the team raced to their own mortar pits to light the darkness with illumination rounds. In the first five minutes of the battle Sergeant Thurman Brown ducked a hail of incoming grenades, narrowly escaped death from an incoming 57-mm round, watched one of the team’s Vietnamese interpreters lose both legs at the knees and bleed to death in half-a-minute, and faced down the muzzles of two Viet Cong soldiers before killing them himself. Somehow, amid all this, he managed to fire the all-important illumination rounds into the sky that enabled the rest of his team to establish a defense.
At another of the four mortar pits Sergeant Mike Disser and Staff Sergeant Raymond Whitsell fired an illumination round to light up the front gate. Peering cautiously over the protective berm of earth, what they saw was frightening. In the two-foot grass of the outer perimeter moved the shadows of hundreds of enemy soldiers, all converging on Nam Dong. Quickly they alternated between additional illumination rounds and high explosive shells, standing their ground against overwhelming odds. At the front of their position Pop Alamo knelt in the dirt to pick off advancing enemy with his AR-15 rifle. He was painfully burned from his earlier efforts to save the supplies from the burning Command Post, but he ignored the injuries to remain at his post and do his job.
The soldiers turned briefly at the sound of someone approaching. Kevin Conway, the Australian, casually walked towards them. He was smiling nonchalantly as if to inspire confidence in the embattled young Green Berets. Suddenly he stumbled, and then fell; a neat round hole was almost exactly between his eyes. A few minutes later the team’s executive officer, Lieutenant Jay Olejniczak entered the position. Quickly he bandaged the wound in the center of the unconscious but still breathing Australian, before taking off his jacket to gently place it as a pillow beneath Conway’s head. A half hour later Conway was dead.
Captain Donlon’s began working his way through the enemy fire to direct and encourage his men. Nearing the flagpole he suddenly felt his body flying through the air as one round came too close. Hitting the hard dirt, he shook his head to clear the dizziness. The concussion had blown one of his boots off, but as quickly as he regained some presence of mind he scuttled to the nearby mortar pit manned by Sergeant Woods. The soldier who had only hours earlier echoed his premonition of "hell breaking loose" in the letter to his wife, now bent himself to the task of trying to keep hell at bay.
On the far side of Disser’s mortar pit beside the ammo bunkers was a deep excavation the soldiers called "the swimming pool." From that depression in the terrain, Sergeant John Houston yelled, "They’re over here! In the ammo bunker!" Alone, he hugged the dirt to rain automatic fire on the advancing enemy.
Captain Donlon started towards Houston’s position when another mortar landed near enough to throw him to the ground. This time his other boot was blown off, along with his pistol belt and all of his equipment. With only his AR-15 and two clips of ammunition, Donlon crawled to the edge of the mortar pit manned by Sergeant Disser to get more ammunition. As Sergeant Disser threw additional clips over the rim to his team leader, Donlon asked for a report.
"Conway’s hit and Alamo’s hit," Disser replied. "Conway’s hit bad."
Donlon took the report in quickly, preparing to move on towards the Swimming Pool to reinforce Houston. Then he saw movement near the gate. He yelled for Disser to put up another illumination round and its flickering light revealed three enemy slowly crawling along the road towards the gate. Donlon fired, killing two. The third started to crawl back into the grass and Donlon threw a grenade to halt his escape. All three turned out to be sappers, infiltrators who came with small shovels and explosives to blow the front gate.
Near the swimming pool, Sergeant Houston continued to do his best to repulse the enemy's advance at the ammo bunkers. He’d fire at them, then move quickly, fire again, and repeat the action. His effort was an attempt to convince the enemy that there was more than one man holding them at bay from that position.
Donlon was badly burned, his face was cut, his arm was bleeding, and there was a wound about the size of a quarter in his stomach. But everything else was still working and he headed for Houston’s position. Sergeant Terrin got there first and noticed the young soldier whose wife was about to give birth to the couple’s first son slumped over as if reloading. John Houston said, "I’m hit." Then there was a small, choking cry… and silence.
The enemy breached the fence and began setting up an automatic weapon only yards from the swimming pool as Terry rushed towards Houston. An enemy round smashed into Terrin’s AR-15, hurtling his ruptured weapon into the darkness and peppering his forearm with hundreds of small shards of steel. Another round shot a grenade off the Green Beret’s belt, but it didn’t detonate. Sergeant Terrin just stood there for a moment, as if in shock. Captain Donlon rushed to help him. When he arrived, Terrin was fighting one-handed; firing Houston’s AR-15 at the enemy and throwing grenades after pulling the pins with his teeth.
"Get Houston down in the hole (the swimming pool)," Donlon shouted. Terrin nodded and, with the help of a nearby Nung, lowered the young sergeant’s prostrate body into the pit.
"It’s too late," Terrin shouted back up to Captain Donlon. "John’s dead." Roger looked back towards the ammo bunkers, now littered with the bodies of dead enemy soldiers. His two brave teammates, with a handful of Nungs, had miraculously stopped the main assault. John Houston had accomplished the miracle at the cost of his life.
Captain Donlon continued his efforts to locate and organize the men of his team, ignoring the continuous rain of mortars, grenades, and small arms fire in order to reach the rear of the camp. There, team medic Thomas Gregg was lending support to Sergeant First Class Thurman Brown and Staff Sergeant Daniels. The soldiers and their Nungs had kept at bay an advancing force of at least 100 enemy, and withstood a direct assault on the fence by 10 or 15 Viet Cong. The battle for Nam Dong had been going on for more than an hour.
"How’s Beeson doing?" Donlon asked, concerned for the one member of the team he had yet to make contact with. Sergeant First Class Vernon Beeson was responsible for the mortar pit about 40 yards beyond Brown's. Donlon remembered seeing Beeson heading for his position when the first rounds hit the camp, racing over exposed ground as shells fell all around him, to somehow reach it and start firing back. Now, none of the men at the rear of the camp had heard from Beeson in quite some time.
Captain Donlon took off at a run for Beeson’s pit. Around him explosions continued to rock the camp, detonations both from burning buildings within as well as from the enemy mortars from without. The ground was hot and littered with debris. Donlon felt pain stab into his bare foot and struggled to remain standing. Reaching down he found a large shard of plywood attached to his foot by the nail he had stepped on. So intense was the action, he had clomped along for several steps before the pain reached his brain. Quickly he reached down and tore off the piece of wood. Enemy fire began to rain directly on top of him, pinning him down. Unable to proceed further, Donlon limped back to Sergeant Brown’s position.
Gregg came over the side of the pit and looked at his battered and bloodied commander. "You’re wounded captain," he said. "Let me fix you up."
"No," Donlon replied, "I’m all right. Go take care of the others."
Donlon was still very concerned about the action back near the gate. The enemy had over-run the strike force position near the swimming pool. Ignoring his wounds, Captain Donlon rose and headed back across the camp. When he was half-way there the fire in the supply room finally reached the ammunition and it went up in an explosion, throwing Donlon’s body into the sky for the third time. Shrapnel ripped into his leg and the concussion stunned his senses. Pulling himself up, he forced himself to continue.
The situation was critical in Disser’s mortar pit. Sergeant Alamo and Lieutenant Olejniczak hugged the dirt on either side of the small depression, firing continuously at the advancing enemy while Sergeant Disser worked the mortars with a fury. Alamo was bleeding from a shoulder wound, but he ignored the pain to stay at his post. The lieutenant bent for a moment to check Alamo out, quickly pronouncing, "You’re all right."
Suddenly Disser gave a yell and turned from his mortar to pick up his AR-15 and fire over the two men’s heads; at the rim of their position stood an enemy soldier. As the enemy fell backwards under Disser’s fire he dropped a grenade inside the small area. The men had little time to ponder their good fortune when it failed to detonate, and then Olejniczak heard another grenade fall near his feet. He quickly hit the ground, aiming his feet towards the deadly orb as it exploded, the concussion slamming into the soles of his boots and crushing bones. As more grenades began to fall, Olejniczak tightened his bootlaces to keep his shattered feet together.
Sergeant Disser was wounded in both knees and his arm, but he continued to crouch in place and drop rounds into his mortar tube. The enemy was close enough that their grenades rained about him like hail. Fortunately, many were duds and others detonated with little impact. The three Green Berets began to ignore the incoming explosives as mere pests.
One grenade bounced over the rim and landed in an ammunition box beside Sergeant Disser. He jumped to the left while Olejniczak and Alamo jumped right. The blast tore into Disser’s foot and lower leg. As the smoke cleared he crawled painfully back to drop another round down the tube.
Alamo had been hit again and was slumped nearby. Olejniczak was bleeding from wounds in his legs, left hand and elbow, shoulders and back. His weapon had been knocked from his hands, and now he was passing rounds to Disser as Captain Donlon arrived. "This is for Pop!" He shouted as he handed a round to Disser. "This one’s for Conway!" he yelled as he passed another. Both men were running purely on adrenaline and training. They knew it was probably a matter of minutes before their position was swarmed, so they shouted their defiance with each new round dropped in the tube. Olejniczak had already decided that, although wounded and weaponless, the first Viet Cong to come over the rim of the pit would be killed with his bare hands. He would fight as long as he breathed, with whatever he had. When he died, he would go down fighting.
Donlon could see that the situation was hopeless. "Get out!" he ordered. Disser and Donlon’s interpreter began to move back to a small ditch. Lieutenant Olejniczak staggered numbly, moving against his excruciating pain to get through the doorway of the bunker. Donlon kept his eyes on the advancing Viet Cong, firing from his AR-15 to cover his men's withdrawal.
Pop Alamo was sitting on the steps, bleeding from his face, shoulder, and stomach. Donlon yelled to Disser and Olejniczak to cover him, and then went to his Team Sergeant’s aid. He pulled the badly wounded Alamo up by an arm, hooking it around his neck to drag him to safety. Donlon was at a half-crouch when a mortar hit the top of the stairs, throwing his body into space. "I’m going to die," Donlon thought.
When he came to the Green Beret Captain was half in and half out of the doorway to the bunker. Pops Alamo was in the center of the pit, covered in blood. Donlon quickly took stock of his own condition. His shoulder was bloody, his fingers were numb, and he was bleeding from his face, leg, and the wound to his stomach. His head ached with deep, stabbing pains and was covered in blood. Captain Donlon was fortunate; Sergeant Gabriel Pops Alamo was dead.
Roger mustered the strength to grab the 60-mm mortar and carry it out of the pit and re-set it near some cinder blocks 30-yards away. Nearby were four wounded Nungs, seemingly beyond resistance. All were wounded, one with an open scalp wound. Captain Donlon ripped off his t-shirt to bandage them, trying to use gestures and Pidgin English to motivate them. When he had checked the flow of blood from their wounds he propped them up and placed their rifles in their hands. "Come on," he urged, "you fellows are going to be all right. You can still fight. Here’s your weapon. Cover me. Do you understand? Cover me. I’m going over there (back towards the mortar pit). Use your weapon. Cover me." With that, Roger stuffed the last remnant of his t-shirt into his stomach wound to stem the flow of blood and returned to the mortar pit to get more ammunition.
In all, he made three trips to the now abandoned position at the front gate. His mission was two-fold, to recover ammunition needed in order to fire from the mortar he'd just carried out of there, and also to insure that nothing would be left behind for the enemy to turn on his men when at last they overran the position. His efforts with the Nungs had inspired something…they were shooting back at the encroaching enemy. Though their fire was almost without control--it seemed as if they were shooting into empty air--at least they had recovered their determination to go down fighting. On his final trip from the abandoned mortar pit Captain Donlon recovered Sergeant Alamo’s rifle. Nearing the cinderblocks he felt the concussion of an exploding grenade as more hot metal fragments ripped into his left leg. Turning this new position over to Disser, Olejniczak and the four Nungs, Captain Donlon headed out once again to check on his other men.
He returned first to Sergeant Woods' position, from which he had started his rounds less than two hours earlier. In that span of time he had seen his Australian friend and two teammates killed, four others wounded, and had been wounded himself more times than he could count. "How are you doing," he shouted over the din of the battle when he found Woody, knee-deep in ammunition brass and cast-off containers. Woody’s feet were cut and bleeding, but he was still busy at work dropping 81-mm mortars around the camp.
"Hell, I’m all right," Woody shouted back. "But I think my right eardrum’s busted. I felt some liquid running out of it. How’s everybody else?"
Donlon hesitated for a moment, trying to determine if it was wise to tell Woody the truth, or let him think there might still be some hope. Finally he opted for the truth. "Alamo’s dead, Houston’s dead, Conway’s dead," he told him. "Lieutenant "O" and Disser are wounded. Brown’s wounded. Terry’s wounded. I don’t know about Beeson. I can’t get to him."
Woody took the news in stride, shouting to his Nungs to cover him while he swung his tube towards the helipad and continued to drop rounds down the tube of his mortar. Donlon stooped to help him, clearing away some of the debris that littered the pit and ordering some of the nearby Nungs to assist in order to give Woody more room to operate. While bending down he found a case of flares. He knew he needed more illumination, and began stuffing some of them in the pockets of his pajamas. Then, with Woody’s pit well under control, Captain Donlon headed back into the burning remnants of what had once been the Special Forces camp at Nam Dong to see how his medics were doing.
He was staggering now, sounds of battle raging in his head as if about to cause it to explode. He couldn’t straighten his battered and exhausted body, so he staggered along at a half crouch. Nearing the flagpole, another mortar round knocked him to the ground. He struggled up to his knees and crawled to the cinder block position where Disser and Olejniczak were still holding their own in the small ditch behind Sergeant Whitsell’s mortar pit. The shallow 18-inch ditch that had been dug to lay communications wire was now filled with people…Nungs, Vietnamese…all of them bandaged. Sergeants Gregg and Terrin had been very busy, moving throughout the fire-ravaged camp to bind up bodies and encourage the wounded to keep fighting. When they found a wounded man without a weapon they treated him quickly, propped him up in a fighting position, found a rifle to place in his hands, and supplied him with ammunition to keep going. Only as a last resort did they give anyone sedatives. All knew that the enemy would make their big push soon, and every man capable of fighting would need to be fully alert.
Captain Donlon refused attention for his own wounds, determined to keep going on sheer guts, willpower and training. After checking out the efforts of his medics, he left the trench to try and re-man the mortar pit they had earlier abandoned near the front gate. At least now his feet were covered, having borrowed boots from Sergeant Disser.
Trying to reach Beeson’s position, as he moved through the camp the fires silhouetted him and an enemy machine gun began tracking his progress. He had to turn back, still unsure if Sergeant Beeson was alive or not.
Next he checked the other position at the rear where Sergeant Brown and Sergeant Gregg still held on. Gregg repeatedly assured his Captain that he HAD contacted DaNang. The request for help had been sent nearly two hours earlier, and Donlon couldn’t understand why there had been no support from the sky. Gregg wanted to bandage Donlon’s wounds, but again the Captain refused. "There are a lot of men here worse off than me. Take care of them and catch me later. I’m tired, but I’m alright."
It was 4:04 A.M. when Donlon heard the sound of an incoming airplane. The first aircraft from DaNang would be bringing in more illumination to light up the countryside and reveal the enemy positions. Air strikes would follow.
Then came another sound, an amplified voice shouting something in Vietnamese. The sound mixed eerily into the pre-dawn darkness, and for a moment both sides stopped firing. Sergeant Daniels turned to his interpreter, who looked shaken. "What’s he saying?"
The Vietnamese interpreter was pale; visibly upset by the words. "He say lay down weapons. V.C. going to take camp and we all be killed."
"Over my dead body," Sergeant Daniels replied. "We’ll lay down our weapons when we’re too dead to pick ‘em up."
There was another long pause of silence, and then the voice came over the loudspeaker again, this time in English. "Lay down your weapons! We are going to annihilate your camp, you will all be killed!"
Sergeant Brown craned his ear against the sound of the loudspeaker and started cranking the knobs on his mortar tube. Daniels and Gregg tried to help him pinpoint the direction and distance to the eerie voice in the early morning. Then Brown went into action, dropping ten rounds down his tube in rapid succession. Enemy machine guns began firing once again, but the loudspeaker fell silent.
Despite the weakening of the attack with the arrival of American aircraft, the battle for Nam Dong continued until 7:00 A.M. For five hours the small outpost of freedom defied all odds to maintain its position. It was nearly 6:00 a.m. when Donlon finally reached Beeson’s position to find his Sergeant still lobbing mortars on the now retreating enemy. Beeson looked at the battered body of his commander and said, "Sit down, Captain."
"Naw, I’m all right," Donlon replied.
"Sir," Beeson replied firmly, "sit down, or I’m going to have to knock you down." With a sigh of exhaustion, Roger Donlon slumped to an ammunition box and finally allowed his multiple wounds to be treated.
Alamo and Houston were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, and Olejniczak, Brown, Disser and Terrin received Silver Stars. Bronze Stars for valor were awarded to Beeson, Daniels, Gregg, Whitsell and Woods. Nine of the twelve Team members received Purple Hearts.
On December 5, 1964, all ten surviving members of Detachment A‑726 were reunited at the White House where President Lyndon Johnson presented Special Forces Captain Roger H.C. Donlon with the Medal of Honor. It was the first of 246 such awards to be presented for heroism during the Vietnam War.
First and foremost, the 12 Americans who had come to Vietnam to "Free the Oppressed" had proven that they were born of the same courage, determination, and fierce loyalty to each other that had enabled their fathers to win the World War. Those young men were members of a new generation, but they had all the best qualities of the old.
Second, these young Americans had demonstrated a fighting skill and professionalism that marked them as new and unique in America's military forces. The men of the United States Army Special Forces showed a level of training and leadership that rivaled any soldiers in history. At Nam Dong, Team A-726 wrote a new chapter in history, and gave us a new definition of valor.
Also consulted were:
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