Medal of Honor recipients were motivated by loyalty to comrades, country
Stars and Stripes June 11, 2003
STUTTGART, GERMANY — The gold medals on blue-and-white ribbons strung around their necks looked out of place.
Joseph Rodriguez, a retired Army colonel, and Roger Hugh Donlon, a retired Army Special Forces colonel, would have looked more fashionable with neckties, but when you are Medal of Honor recipients helping celebrate the Army’s 228th birthday, you wear the medal.
Rodriguez, 74, and Donlon, 69, are in Germany this week meeting and talking with soldiers. They will be guests of honor Friday at the U.S. European Command Army Ball in Stuttgart
On Monday, they spoke on Patch Barracks in Stuttgart to around 200 troops about their experiences, lives, heroism and the military.
A third Medal of Honor recipient, retired Army Capt. James Burt, was unable to attend as planned because of medical reasons.
“We did not do it to be heroes,” said Rodriguez, who received his medal for actions during the Korean War just seven months after being drafted into the Army. He was 22 years old.
“We did it because of our loyalty to the men we were with and to our country.”
No one who has received the Medal of Honor views his actions in combat as extraordinary, said Donlon, who received his medal for helping protect a camp during the Vietnam War while sustaining multiple injuries.
“No recipient looks at it as going above and beyond,” he said. “What you did wasn’t [because of] hatred of the enemy but for love of the men you’ve had a responsibility for.”
The U.S. president, in the name of Congress, has awarded more than 3,400 Medals of Honor to members of the U.S. military since the medal’s creation in 1861.
Rodriguez and Donlon said they wanted to reassure the troops what they are doing, especially in the wake of Operation Iraqi Freedom, is important.
“We need to remember we’re Americans,” Donlon said.
Donlon said even neighbors who never served in the military are proud of what the soldiers have been able to do in combat in Iraq.
Rodriguez said it may not be clear to every man and women who serves in the military what a particular conflict is about, but they must be confident in their leaders that there is a purpose and reason.
In February 1952, Rodriguez was a private first class when, as an assistant squad leader, he participated in an attack against a fanatical hostile force, according to the medal citation. His squad was stopped by a barrage of automatic weapons, small-arms fire and grenades from five places.
He ran up a hill into enemy gunfire and lobbed grenades into foxholes, killing 15 enemy troops and allowing his unit to proceed.
Donlon received his medal for actions in December 1964. He was a captain serving as the commander of a U.S. Army Special Forces detachment at Camp Nam Dong in Vietnam when a battalion of Viet Cong launched a full-scale, pre-dawn attack on the camp, according to the medal citation.
During the ensuing five-hour battle, Donlon directed the defense operations in the midst of an enemy barrage of mortar shells, falling grenades and heavy gunfire.
The highlights of his heroism include annihilating a demolition team of three enemy soldiers, stopping the breach of the main gate by dashing through small-arms fire and exploding grenades, risking his life by staying behind to direct the withdrawal of his wounded soldiers and dragging wounded soldiers to safety. He was shot in the left shoulder and was wounded in the leg from a hand grenade. A mortar shell also exploded, injuring his face and other parts of his body. Despite his injuries, Donlon continued to help injured soldiers and protect the camp. In the end, 54 enemy soldiers were killed.
Donlon and Rodriguez’s personal heroes, though, are not military leaders or political powerhouses or sports stars or great diplomats. They both put their fathers at the top of their hero lists.
Rodriguez’s mother died when he was 5, and his father remarried. He has a total of 17 siblings.
“My father knew his responsibilities and how to raise us,” Rodriguez said. “When he told you something, you listened … not like today.”
Donlon said he grew up emulating his father, who served in World War I, and his older brothers who also served in the military. He said the lessons his father taught him, such as respect and responsibility, are what have guided his life.
“He taught me about service and commitment and country,” Donlon said. “Your word is your bound. Your signature is your seal.”