Roger Donlon: An American Hero

By Clinton Stutzman & Alex Mooers

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Roger Donlon left and his brothers Jack and Paul and talk to the JPI TV crew at an October 2013 Veterans Conference.

Colonel Roger Donlon is an iconic figure of history in Saugerties and the world at large. You may recognize him from the 2013 Veteran’s Conference at Saugerties High School, JPI TV, the Donlon Auditorium or even his books. Either way, he is a role model for all. December 2014 marks the fiftieth anniversary of his Congressional Medal of Honor and Saugerties’ historic Roger Donlon Day.

He was awarded the Medal of Honor on December 4, 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson and Roger Donlon Day was celebrated on December 28, 1964. Donlon retired from the US Army after 32 years and six months while achieving the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He started in the Air Force and then moved to the Army and was commissioned for 29 years after achieving the rank of officer. He attained the rank of Colonel during the last eight years of service.

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Colonel Donlon tells the crew about the man, Grant D. Morse, as a hunter and fisherman.

After seeing his older brothers serve the country in the military, he enlisted at the age of 19, dreaming of becoming a jet pilot. His dreams were crushed when he was denied because of his vision. “I had a medical examination and was disqualified because of an eye problem,” said Donlon in a phone interview.

Although he never flew a jet, he jumped out of quite a few. He indicated another door opened when the opportunity to be a jet pilot was interrupted. He quickly moved to another division of the Air Force. The military saw leadership qualities in Roger. He was soon put into training to become a platoon leader. He trained vigorously under battle savvy generals. They had a special mission for Donlon.

In 1964, He and a group of specially trained soldiers were given the mission of controlling a highly hostile command post in Vietnam. Two days after the United States celebrated their Independence in July 1964, Donlon and his troops were awakened by a loud explosion. The Viet Cong, who had been watching the command post closely, had attacked at 2:30 in the morning. The battle, which is detailed in his books Beyond Nam Dong and Outpost of Freedom as well as on personal account video clips available on Youtube, resulted in the

Roger Donlon by Joe Sinnott

Saugerties’ most famous artist created this rendition of Saugerties most famous soldier.

Congressional Medal of Honor getting bestowed on Donlon, and various prestigious medals and citations given to the Americans battling beside him.

Col. Donlon looks back at his up-bringing in Saugerties as being important in his later success. “Saugerties is near and dear to my heart,” he said. “I am proud of my family and the people of Saugerties. It has always been a source of pride.” He cred-its his schooling at St. Mary of the Snow and Saugerties High School, his family and his scout masters as being responsible for his ability to lead and think on behalf of others. Sports played a big role in his preparation for later life, as well. “The lessons you learn in sports are the lessons you learn for life. You find out you can work together as a team. You learn how to handle victory and defeat,” he remarked. “It also taught me you can shine, but not at the expense of your team.”
Donlon played football and ran track for SHS and while at the United States Military Academy in West Point, he played lacrosse.
50 years after Donlon’s bravery earned him the highest military honor, Sau-gerties mayor William Murphy led the effort to refurbish the Donlon Auditorium which was dedicated and named in his honor in 1964. The mayor of Saugerties at the time was Neil Cox and he spearheaded Roger Donlon Day, as well as the dedication of the municipal gym. In the 50 year span, the Auditorium has been the focal point of community programs such as basketball, music and theater. Just a few weeks ago Murphy completed the plan of installing new windows and a new gym floor in the Saugerties landmark. Donlon was humbled by the atten-tion and the honor. “The refurbishing demonstrates a rededication to rejuvenate, rebuild and redirect ourselves to keep go-ing. It is an honor. That is where they had the Welcome Home Ceremony fifty years ago,” he said. “It is an unbelievable feeling of pride and joy. It makes me reflect on my upbringing in Saugerties.”
His upbringing in Saugerties centered on his family of ten brothers and sisters and his mother and father. Two of his siblings died shortly after childbirth.
Though his father died at a young age in 1947, he had introduced Roger to the Boy Scouts and instructed the scoutmasters to take special care of Roger after he passed. Scouting was important to shaping his future and allowing him to set and achieve goals. “My daddy died when I was thirteen,” he said. “He is always in my heart.”
His mother was an extremely faith-filled woman who taught Roger the value of one’s soul. She and her family attended daily mass at St. Mary of the Snow and she taught him the value of prayer. “I have to credit my mother’s influence on all of this,” he said, My mother always said, ‘The family that prays together stays together.’ I found great solace and great strength in daily prayer,” he said.
Community roots have allowed him to see beyond himself. Decades after the bloody battle at Nam Dong changed the lives of all involved, Col. Donlon helped build a Children’s learning Library on the exact site of the command post in honor of his friends who were killed there and for future generations to use this site as a way to build knowledge and understanding. Donlon lives each day with a full understanding of the responsibility of his survival in battle.
Donlon asked us all to consider the words inscribed on the inside of his wedding ring, given by his wife Norma who had lost her first husband to the Vietnam War, “What we are is God’s gift to us, what we become is our gift to God.”
Saugerties is a better place for the gift of Col. Roger Donlon.

Full December 2014 edition

Full October 2013 edition