Retired Army Maj. Donald Graham will receive two Silver Stars the second-highest award given by the Army for his efforts in leading two combat missions in Vietnam four years apart. Graham was nominated for the medals during the war, but only recently learned they had been awarded. - Bob Pennell

Man receives belated Silver Stars

As a retired Army major who did two combat tours in South Vietnam, longtime Medford resident Donald Graham has always had high regard for Silver Star recipients.

After all, he knew they had put their lives on the line for their fellow soldiers and were recognized with the Army's second-highest award.

"I was put in for three Silver Stars — one was downgraded to a Bronze Star," said the soft-spoken veteran. "But I never heard anything about the Silver Stars after they put me up for them."

After completing 20 years in the Army, Graham, 68, went on with his life, joining the U.S. Postal Service and retiring last year after serving 17 years with the mail service.

It was only within the past month that he learned from the Jackson County Veterans Service Office that the Army had indeed awarded him two Silver Stars for bravery during combat in two separate missions more than 35 years ago. The information came up during a check of his military records he had requested.

"That was quite a surprise," he acknowledged.

Graham will be among five veterans receiving medals at 12:30 p.m. Thursday in Medford by U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden. The ceremony is held quarterly by the Jackson County Veterans Service Office for veterans whose medals were never awarded, or were lost or destroyed.

All told, Graham will receive 18 medals during the ceremony, including the Silver star with one bronze oak leaf cluster, indicating it has been awarded twice.

"I never knew I had them," he said. "I wanted to get some closure on my military history. I will have that now."

Hailing from the Los Angeles area, he joined the Army as a private in 1959. After 61/2 years, he spent six months in Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Ga., graduating in the top 10 percent of his class. While in the Army, he earned a bachelor's degree in history and economics and a master's degree in educational administration and counseling.

He served in Germany and South Korea as well as two tours in the delta region south of what was Saigon, South Vietnam. He retired in 1979.

During his first tour in 1967 he was a newly minted second lieutenant and platoon leader in the 9th Infantry Division; he was a helicopter pilot during his second tour in 1971.

The first Silver star was awarded for an incident which found 2nd Lt. Graham leading a platoon into the delta in March 1967. Unknown to the soldiers, they had just walked past a Viet Cong ambush.

"We didn't realize they were there but the second platoon behind us got hit real hard," he said. "We immediately began counter-firing, and started taking fire from three different directions. I realized the only way to get out of it was to assault all three enemy positions at the same time.

"I felt I had to get up and lead the assault," he added. "If I was going to ask my men to do it, I had to do it, too. It was pretty heavy fire."

His platoon forced the Viet Cong to withdraw, an act that reduced the casualties suffered by the second platoon.

The second Silver Star was for action on a mountain in the southern part of the country near the Cambodian border in mid-January of 1971. Although he was a helicopter pilot, he also served as a liaison with the South Vietnamese Army.

"They got caught in an ambush with four Americans serving as advisers on the ground," he said. "An entire company of South Vietnamese and the Americans were trapped on that mountain. The VC were above them on the mountain as well as below them."

Efforts to free the friendly forces by air and artillery failed, he recalled.

"They stayed on the mountain all that night," he said. "So the next morning we made an assault up there."

Because of his infantry experience, Graham was assigned the task of leading the assault from the ground.

"We broke through," he said. "Unfortunately one of the Americans had died during the night because of his wounds."

During his ground-pounding tour of South Vietnam, he also earned a Purple Heart medal after a soldier during one patrol stepped on a booby trap.

"It threw me back about 20 feet," he said, noting that shrapnel peppered his legs, arms and chest. "I was fortunate. But I'm just glad I didn't lose anybody in that incident, although we had a soldier who was severely wounded."

Graham and his wife, Kipok, have lived in Medford for nearly two decades. A son is an Army lieutenant colonel preparing to ship out to Afghanistan.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at

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