Col. (Ret.) Roger Donlon, Medal of Honor recipient, founding trustee of the CGSC Foundation and former CGSC instructor, lost his 12-year battle with Agent Orange Parkinson’s disease and died Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024. He was 89.
“Roger Donlon is an institution here at Fort Leavenworth,” said Lora Morgan, interim president/CEO of the CGSC Foundation. “His life was a blessing to all of us. We extend our most heartfelt condolences to his wife Norma and the family.”
Donlon was born in Saugerties, New York, on Jan. 30, 1934. Graduating from Saugerties High School in 1952, he attended the New York State College of Forestry at Syracuse University for one year then served in the U.S. Air Force from 1953 to 1955. He attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point for two years before leaving to achieve his dream of serving as an infantry officer through Officer Candidate School. Commissioned as an infantry officer in 1959, Donlon served in many notable Infantry, Special Forces and Foreign Area Officer assignments including duty as Team Commander, 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) in Vietnam; Commandant, Advanced Combat Training Academy in Korea; District Senior Advisor in Vietnam; Advisor to The Royal Thai Army in Bangkok, Thailand; Battalion Commander, 3rd Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) in Panama; Director of International Officers at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; and Commander, United Nations Command Rear Headquarters, Tokyo, Japan. Donlon served in uniform for a total of 33 years before retiring in 1988 in Leavenworth.
On July 6, 1964, as commander of Detachment A-726, U.S. Army Special Forces, then-Capt. Donlon and his 12-man team, along with 60 Chinese Nungs, successfully defended a small American outpost at Camp Nam Dong, Republic of Vietnam, against a force of 900 enemy troops. It was the first battle of the Vietnam War where the regular North Vietnamese Army joined forces with the Viet Cong from the south to try to overrun an American outpost. During five excruciating hours, in the inferno of a desperate night battle, Donlon and his men held off a reinforced battalion of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese regular army forces. For his valor at Nam Dong, President Lyndon B. Johnson presented Donlon with the Medal of Honor in the East Ballroom of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 5, 1964. Donlon became the first American Soldier of the Vietnam War to be awarded the Medal of Honor and the first U.S. Army Special Forces Soldier so honored. See the Medal of Honor Society website for the full medal citation.
In November 1965, while on a flight to Fort Benning, Georgia, Donlon sat next to a young widow whose husband had been killed in action in Vietnam. Neither was aware that this was the beginning of a love affair that would last to infinity and beyond. Three years later Donlon married Norma Shinno Irving on Nov. 9, 1968.
Donlon earned his bachelor’s from University of Nebraska at Omaha and his master’s from Campbell University in North Carolina. He was also the recipient of an Honorary Master of Military Arts and Sciences from the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. He is the author of Beyond Nam Dong, a self- published autobiography, and co-author of Outpost Of Freedom.
Donlon was also the recipient of numerous civic awards and honors. He sponsored an award beginning in 1997 for military excellence at the United States Military Academy Preparatory School which is presented to the graduating cadet candidate selected as most outstanding in military aptitude. Donlon was a life member of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, the Association of the United States Army, the National Special Forces Association, the Retired Officers’ Association, the American Legion, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
After his retirement from active duty in 1988 he was involved in numerous civic organizations. He served on the board of trustees of People-to People International and was a founding member of the board of trustees for the Command and General Staff College Foundation at Fort Leavenworth. In May 1995, Donlon was inducted into the Fort Leavenworth Hall of Fame, the only non-General Officer to hold this distinction in the 20th century. Appointed in May 2004, Donlon served as the “Honorary Colonel” of the First Special Forces Regiment for six years. The Commanders Award for public service was presented to the Donlons in 2013 for their 25 years of dedicated service sponsoring International Officers attending the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth.
Donlon was a beloved husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, brother, uncle, friend. He was the eighth of 10 children born to Paul A. and Marion (Howard) Donlon of Saugerties, New York. Both his parents preceded him in death. In addition to his parents, his sisters, Marion, Mary Bernadette, Adrienne and Barbara (Huff), along with brothers, Joseph, Michael and Gerard also preceded him in death. Two other brothers, Paul A. Jr. of Saugerties, N.Y. and Jack in Panama City, Fla., survive him.
His surviving family are Linda Danninger (Paul) (daughter with his first wife who preceded him in death); his wife of 55 years, Norma; three sons, Damian, Jason (Lori) and Derek. His youngest son, Justin also preceded him in death. In addition, there are six grandchildren, Alicia Robbins, Justine (and Adam Donlon-Jeschke) Griffin Danninger, Elise, Jordan and Aurelia Donlon; and one very special great-granddaughter, Willow Faye Donlon-Campbell; 17 nieces and nephews; 21 grandnieces and -nephews; and five great-grandnieces and -nephews.
Donlon achieved many awards, honors, and accolades during his lifetime, but he considered his two reconciliation projects in Vietnam as his contribution to “Heal the wounds of war.” Both he and Norma believed that “Those who have invested the most of themselves in war should be the first to reach out in peace.” Roger Donlon will be remembered as a devoted family man, faithful to God and his church, a patriot to the core and always a friend and mentor to those with whom he came in contact.
Visitation beginning with praying the rosary led by Matt Belford will be from 5 to 8 p.m., Monday, Jan. 29, 2024, at R.L. Leintz Funeral Home, 4701 10th Ave., Leavenworth. The Mass of Christian Burial will begin at 10:30 a.m., Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2024, at St. Joseph Catholic Church, 306 North Broadway, Leavenworth. A Celebration of Life will be April 10, 2024, beginning at 1300 hours at Frontier Conference Center, 350 Biddle Avenue, Fort Leavenworth. Burial service to follow at Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery.
The family requests that in lieu of cards or flowers, please consider a memorial donation to the Gary Sinise Foundation.