I pushed back from my desk and just sat there, staring at the story I had just read in awe. I felt like I was reading a movie script, but in reality, it was a Congressional Medal of Honor citation for Colonel Roger Donlon, an incredible man I had the opportunity to meet recently.
Once a month, I get together with a group of business leaders for a prayer lunch, and last month, I happened to walk in at the same time as Steve Minnis, president of Benedictine College.
“Ernie, I want you to meet a guest of mine,” President Minnis said, introducing me to the man with him. “This is Colonel Roger Donlon, a Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient.”
It was the first time I’d ever met a Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient, so needless to say I was thrilled to shake his hand and thank him for his service. He gave me a firm handshake and said hello, and we proceeded into the building. We were early, so I sat down with President Minnis, Col. Donlon, and my son, Paul.
Curious, I asked, “Col. Donlon, how did you get that medal?”
Without missing a beat, he responded, “They pinned it on my jacket.”
I chuckled. “Let me restate that. What did you do to get them to pin that on your jacket?”
Col. Donlon quickly changed the topic and instead told us about two of his brothers who served in the European Theatre in WWII. Soon the room began to fill up, and our rosary meeting got started. We prayed for the two fallen Kansas City, Kansas police officers, Captain Robert Melton and Detective Brad Lancaster as well as Col. Donlon’s brother, Mike, who was in hospice. After praying the rosary and having lunch, we went around the room and introduced ourselves.
When it came to Col. Donlon, he did tell a brief story from the battle, which took place at Camp Nam Dong during the Vietnam War. Before Col. Donlon left for Vietnam, his brother, Paul, had given him a “miraculous medal.” The medal had saved Paul’s life in WWII when it stopped a piece of shrapnel, and it still had a dent in the back to show for it. Col. Donlon ultimately lost the medal fighting during the battle at Nam Dong.
Selfless and Heroic
I left there thinking there was something very special about Col. Donlon. The way he carried himself, his humility, and his care for others were all apparent in that short time I interacted with him. When I returned to the office, Ed Condon who also met Col. Donlon sent me the citation from Col. Donlon’s battle. I had to read it twice to fully understand everything he did to courageously lead his troops and save the outpost.
Col. Donlon, who was an Army captain at the time, was the commanding officer of a special forces detachment at Camp Nam Dong, a South Vietnamese government outpost. Early on the morning of July 6, 1964, Col. Donlon’s 300 men endured an extremely hostile attack from about 800 Viet Cong and North Vietnamese soldiers.
Col. Donlon was wounded multiple times during the grueling five-hour attack, and yet he selflessly led and aided his men while simultaneously pushing back the enemy and saving the camp. He was awarded the very first Medal of Honor for the Vietnam War by President Lyndon B. Johnson in December of 1964.
An excerpt from his citation reads:
“Without hesitation, he left this sheltered position, and moved from position to position around the beleaguered perimeter while hurling hand grenades at the enemy and inspiring his men to superhuman effort. . . . His dynamic leadership, fortitude, and valiant efforts inspired not only the American personnel but the friendly Vietnamese defenders as well and resulted in the successful defense of the camp.”
I won’t try to do the story justice, so I’d encourage you to read the full citation here. You can’t make this stuff up!
What Col. Donlon did to lead his men is simply unbelievable.
It’s hard to imagine being able to keep your wits about you and help everyone you can in such a hostile environment. He is certainly a man of valor.
If I’d never met Col. Donlon, I would never have known that he existed, let alone the heroism he has displayed. Meeting him reminded me that there are countless men and women that I will never hear about, and yet I am indebted to them for the freedom and blessings I enjoy every day in this country. I’ve never been in battle, but I have such respect and gratitude for those who have.
When you meet veterans, I’d encourage you to show them the respect they deserve, treat them with kindness, and keep them in their prayers. Those are things all of us can do.
In the process of writing this post, I learned that Col Donlon’s brother, Mike, the one we prayed for at our meeting, passed away that same day. Please keep Col. Donlon and his family in your prayers.
If you’d like to read more of Col. Donlon’s incredible story, here’s a great feature on him from The Washington Post.
Veteran Resources in Kansas City: