In 1964, the United States wasn’t yet fully immersed in Vietnam and our commitment at that time were just advisors. Roger Donlon was the Commander of A-726, a Special Forces A-Team from the 7th Special Forces Group. His team was placed in Nam Dong, a strategically placed village 30 miles west of Da Nang and 15 miles east of the Laotian border.

Donlon’s actions during a two-day battle July 5-6, 1964 would ultimately result in him being awarded the Medal of Honor. He was the first US soldier to be awarded it during the Vietnam War. There were also two Distinguished Crosses awarded as well as four Silver Stars and five Bronze Stars to the team members. Nine team members were awarded the Purple Heart.

A-726 at Ft. Bragg before deploying to Vietnam.

Later, in 1968, the John Wayne film, “The Green Berets” had a scene where a Special Forces A-Camp (A-107) was sieged by the Viet Cong. It was loosely based on the battle at Camp Nam Dong.

The camp was on a major infiltration route for the North Vietnamese along the Ho Chi Minh trail, located on a finger of terrain that extended from Laos. Donlon’s team consisted of 12 Americans, an Australian Warrant Officer Kevin Conway and an American anthropologist, Gerald Hickey who was studying Vietnam’s indigenous tribes. The Green Berets were assigned to train and advise 311 Katu Tribesman along with a South Vietnamese SF team and 60 Nung (ethnic Chinese) mercenaries at the camp.

Nam Dong was situated on a rise in a valley and encompassed about 5 acres of territory. The Green Berets and their trusted Nung mercenaries would control the inner compound while the South Vietnamese would protect the outer compound with the tribesmen who were broken down into three strike force companies.

Donlon’s team had been in-country only about a month but they already suspected that many of Vietnamese strikers and army troops were Viet Cong (VC) sympathizers. Later, it was revealed that nearly a third were VC.

Donlon and the team sensed what was coming. A three-day patrol returned with the news that the VC had executed two village chiefs that had been friendly with the Americans. Throughout that Sunday afternoon, 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. Donlon later said that the confrontation was started by VC sympathizers inside the camp’s strike force.

Captain Roger Donlon at Nam Dong before the battle

SSG Merwin Woods was writing a letter home to his wife before going to bed on the night of the July 5th. “All hell is going to break loose here before the night is over,” he wrote. He was right.