An Army of Firsts
December 3, 2010
- Captain Roger H. C. Donlon was the first recipient of the Medal of Honor in the Vietnam War and the first since the Korean War.
- Captain Donlon was also the first member of Special Forces to be awarded the Medal of Honor.
- Staff Sergeant Salvatore A. Giunta was awarded the Medal of Honor for actions above and beyond the call of duty in Afghanistan.
- Staff Sergeant Giunta is the first living recipient of the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War.
On December 5, 1964, U. S. Army Captain Roger H. C. Donlon was awarded the Medal of Honor for actions above and beyond the call of duty while at Nam Dong in Vietnam. In an army that is used to being the first in many exploits of our nation's history, Donlon was the first recipient of the Medal of Honor in the Vietnam War, the first recipient of the medal since the Korean War, and the first member of the elite Special Forces to receive the Medal of Honor.
Captain Donlon was commanding officer of the twelve-man Special Forces Team A-726 at Camp Nam Dong, approximately fifteen miles from the Laos border in Vietnam. On the morning of July 6, 1964, the camp was attacked by a reinforced Viet Cong battalion. During a battle that lasted five hours, Captain Donlon directed defense operations while taking heavy enemy fire, including mortars, grenades and small-arms fire. He personally engaged and wiped out a three-man VC demolition team and shortly thereafter suffered a stomach wound from a mortar round that hit nearby. He stuffed a piece of his own shirt into his stomach to stop the bleeding and continued fighting, providing encouragement and much needed ammunition to his men.
The VC continued to press their attack, and Captain Donlon attempted to move his wounded team sergeant to safety. While he was doing so, another mortar round exploded, injuring Donlon's shoulder and killing the sergeant. Withdrawing his South Vietnamese irregulars, a fierce group of sixty Nungs (ethnic Chinese anti-communists) and his surviving team, Donlon was repeatedly wounded in the face and body from flying shrapnel.
Having held off the VC until daylight of July 7, Donlon received much needed supplies from U. S. aircraft and was reinforced by Marines, allowing the Captain and his other wounded team members to be evacuated by helicopter.
When President Lyndon Johnson presented the first Medal of Honor of the Vietnam War to Captain Donlon on December 5, 1964, the nine survivors of Team A-726 were present. Captain Donlon introduced them to the Commander-in-Chief and said, "This medal belongs to them too."
More recently, Staff Sergeant Salvatore A. Giunta received the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions on October 25, 2007, while a Specialist with the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, in the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan. While returning to Combat Outpost Vimoto at nightfall, his squad was fired upon by Taliban fighters spread out in a classic L-shaped ambush. Staff Sergeant Giunta ran through intense enemy fire to help his wounded fellow Soldiers. He then observed two enemy insurgents dragging away a wounded American Soldier. Giving chase, Giunta killed one of the insurgents and wounded another and then administered medical aid to the wounded American. President Barack Obama awarded Staff Sergeant Giunta the Medal of Honor in a ceremony at the White House on November 16, 2010. Staff Sergeant Giunta also has the fortunate distinction of being another first in the annals of Army history, as he is the first living person to receive the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War. All the others were awarded posthumously.
Staff Sergeant Giunta's ceremony was also attended by the surviving members of his team. And much like Captain Donlon before him, Sergeant Giunta deflected all praise intended for him onto those of the men alongside of whom he fought. On being awarded the Medal of Honor, Staff Sergeant Giunta said, "to be with so many people doing so much stuff and then to be singled out-and put forward. I mean, everyone did something."
Both Captain Donlon and Staff Sergeant Giunta were, however, not the first to express the belief that their fellow comrades in arms were as worthy of the Medal of Honor as they were themselves. In the long and proud history of the U. S. Army, the American Soldier recognizes that duty, courage, and selflessness toward their fellow Soldiers come first.
ABOUT THIS STORY: Many of the sources presented in this article are among 400,000 books, 1.7 million photos and 12.5 million manuscripts available for study through the U.S. Army Military History Institute (MHI). The artifacts shown are among nearly 50,000 items of the Army Heritage Museum (AHM) collections. MHI and AHM are part of the U. S. Army Heritage and Education Center, 950 Soldiers Drive, Carlisle, PA, 17013-5021. Website: www.carlisle.army.mil/ahec