The funeral procession for Col. Roger Donlon showing the horse-drawn caisson and flag-draped casket.

An American Hero is Laid to Rest

Col. Roger Donlon Remembered in Ceremony and Scholarship

Bronze bust of Col. Donlon.It was an overcast spring day as the funeral procession slowly rolled through the city of Leavenworth, Kansas. Firetrucks, ambulances, EMS and police vehicles, with lights flashing and crews standing at attention beside them, were positioned all along the route. Veterans stopped their cars and got out to stand and salute. People stopped whatever they were doing and watched, paying their last respects to a great American hero, the late Col. Roger Donlon, who would be celebrated that day.

Soldiers line Grant Ave. in Fort Leavenworth.The caravan turned into the entrance of Fort Leavenworth, where a giant American flag hung over the gate. Hundreds of soldiers lined Grant Avenue, standing shoulder to shoulder at attention as the entire procession passed by. Although he had passed away on January 25, the tenth day in April was set aside for Col. Donlon’s Celebration of Life. He was a decorated war hero, the first to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor from the Vietnam War. What friends, admirers, and loved ones experienced that day was a truly special honor, reserved for those who had earned the Medal of Honor through their bravery, their sacrifice, and often times, their blood.

The Celebration of Life at the Frontier Conference Center at Fort Leavenworth included many speakers, videos, songs and presentations. President Stephen D. Minnis of Benedictine College had become a longtime friend and admirer of Col. Donlon and had been asked to speak at the ceremony.

Col. Donlon regularly spoke on the college campus in nearby Atchison, Kansas, and was often featured in the president’s Leadership Class. He was the first person honored with Benedictine’s St. Martin of Tours Award, named for the patron saint of soldiers, during Stars & Stripes Weekend in 2017 and received an honorary degree from the college during the 2015 Commencement Exercises. He supported student scholarships and was very proud that his granddaughter, Justine, graduated from Benedictine College in 2020.

Benedictine President Stephen Minnis speaking at the Celebration of Life for Col. Donlon.“Words cannot express the impact Roger Donlon has had on Benedictine College—and on me personally,” said Minnis during the event. “We were devastated by the news of his passing and have placed a candle in Mary’s Grotto to remember him. I have committed to light it every day and pray for Roger and Norma (Donlon’s widow).”

Minnis went on to announce that, thanks to the vision of Col. Donlon’s granddaughter, Justine, the college was in the process of establishing a new scholarship in his name to support Benedictine College ROTC students.

“Roger Donlon’s name will live on at Benedictine College,” Minnis said. Contributions to the scholarship can be made by contacting Kelly Vowels, Vice President for Advancement at Benedictine College, by calling or texting her at (913) 426-0918.

The Celebration of Life also included a very special speaker, Mike Disser, one of the men who served under Donlon in 1964 during the Battle of Nam Dong, the action for which Col. Donlon received the Medal of Honor.

At the outpost deep in the jungles on the border with Laos, Donlon’s 12-man team served as advisors to 311 South Vietnamese soldiers. In the darkness of the early morning hours of July 6, 1964, nearly 1,000 Viet Cong and North Vietnamese soldiers attacked Nam Dong with mortars, grenades, rifles and other small arms. Two members of Special Forces Team A-726 died in the battle. Donlon, who was a captain at the time, was wounded four times as he continuously encouraged his men, directed fire, and delivered ammunition.

“I am alive and here today at 80 years old thanks to the leadership of Roger Donlon that day,” he said. “Thank you, Roger.”

Others who spoke at the Celebration of Life were friends from his hometown in central New York state, U.S. and international officers, family friends and various officials. The Celebration of Life concluded with the singing of “The Ballad of the Green Berets,” “The Army Song,” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Following the celebration, the procession to Leavenworth National Cemetery was particularly moving. A bagpiper and the Army Band led the way, drumming a slow march. A horse team pulled a caisson carrying the flag-draped coffin, followed by the Honor Guard and the iconic riderless horse.

The presentation and final salute to the American flag.
Col. Donlon was certainly a hero and role model, but his story went beyond the battlefield. He was an example of the American spirit of service and dedication. He served his country in uniform for 32 years and then traveled the country, talking to youth and veterans alike, offering encouragement and inspiration. He was 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.

The special ceremony at the grave site included a 21-Gun Salute (three-shot volley), prayer, a very special and emotional Echo Taps, and the folding of the flag and presentation to the widow.

It was all extremely moving and an appropriate conclusion to a life well lived.

Benedictine College

Founded in 1858, Benedictine College is a Catholic, Benedictine, residential, liberal arts college located on the bluffs above the Missouri River in Atchison, Kansas. The school is honored to have been named one of America’s Best Colleges by U.S. News & World Report, the best private college in Kansas by The Wall Street Journal, and one of the top Catholic colleges in the nation by First Things magazine and the Newman Guide. It prides itself on outstanding academics, extraordinary faith life, strong athletic programs, and an exceptional sense of community and belonging. Benedictine College is dedicated to transforming culture in America through its mission to educate men and women within a community of faith and scholarship.