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Medal of Honor Monday: Army 1st Lt. Stephen H. Doane

Army 1st Lt. Stephen Holden Doane could have remained in college during the Vietnam War, but he decided to serve his country instead. He was only 21 when he gave his life to save other soldiers around him. His valor and devotion earned him the Medal of Honor.

A man in a beret poses for a photo.
Army 1st Lt. Stephen Holden Doane
Army 1st Lt. Stephen Holden Doane, Medal of Honor recipient.
Photo By: Congressional Medal of Honor Society
VIRIN: 240320-O-D0439-048

Doane was born on Oct. 13, 1947, in Beverly, Massachusetts, to David and Joan Doane. A few months after his birth, his father received his medical degree and joined the Navy, serving through the Korean War.  

In 1953, Doane's father moved the family to Walton, New York, where Doane and his four siblings — sister Leslie and brothers Eric, Geoffrey and Michael — grew up. As a teen, Doane excelled in sports, especially wrestling. He was also a member of his school's band, orchestra and yearbook staff.  

After graduating high school in 1965, Doane briefly attended the Tilton Academy, a prep school in Tilton, New Hampshire, before enrolling at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania. In the one semester Doane attended, the college said he was on the wrestling team and in the process of joining Phi Kappa Psi fraternity until he opted to join the Army in March 1967. 

Doane's choice to serve inspired his father to return to the military. His dad, who was now a doctor, joined the Army Reserve, serving as the commanding officer of a field hospital in Binghamton, New York.  

Three men sit on the ground in a makeshift hut.
Bunker Home
Marines relax in makeshift areas while deployed in Vietnam. "Home is where you dig" is the sign over this fighting bunker.
Photo By: Marine Corps/National Archives
VIRIN: 240320-M-D0439-036

About a year after enlisting, the younger Doane became an Army Ranger and graduated from Officer Candidate School. He initially served as an instructor before being sent to Vietnam in January 1969. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry, 25th Infantry Division.  

In the three months Doane was there, he earned a Bronze Star and Purple Heart. His most gallant actions came on March 25, 1969, when he gave his life to save his fellow soldiers. 

On that day, Doane was serving as a platoon leader for Company B during a tactical operation when they came across an enemy force concealed in protected bunkers and trenches in Vietnam's Hau Nghia Province. A firefight ensued.  

Three of the leading soldiers in the company — one of whom was seriously wounded — were pinned down by enemy crossfire. According to Doane's Medal of Honor citation, one platoon tried to rescue the stranded soldiers. When that failed, it became clear that the only way to evacuate them was to send in a small group who could move close enough to destroy the enemy's position.  

A man starts to put his foot into a small tunnel.
Bunker Check
A Marine prepares to check a bunker found in a fortified village during the Vietnam War, Jan. 11, 1968.
Photo By: Marine Corps/National Archives
VIRIN: 680111-M-D0439-021

Doane knew how dangerous this mission would be, but that didn't deter him. He crawled to the nearest enemy bunker and silenced it. Despite being wounded, he continued on to a second enemy bunker. While he was preparing to throw a grenade into it, he was injured again.  

Doane ignored the pain of his wounds, pulled the pin on the grenade and lunged with it into the enemy bunker, destroying the last obstacle that was impeding their rescue. By giving his life, Doane saved the trapped men and kept his company from suffering more casualties.  

Doane's body was returned to the U.S. and buried in Arlington National Cemetery. 

On Feb. 16, 1971, Doane's entire family was on hand to receive the Medal of Honor on his behalf from President Richard M. Nixon during a White House ceremony. Seven other soldiers and four Marines also posthumously received the high honor that day.  

Two men hold a shadowbox. Several other people stand near them, watching.
Medal Ceremony
The parents and siblings of Army 1st Lt. Stephen Holden Doane receive his Medal of Honor from President Richard M. Nixon during a White House ceremony, Feb. 16, 1971.
Photo By: Richard Nixon Presidential Library
VIRIN: 710216-O-D0439-017

Around the same time, Doane's father — who joined the Reserves when his son joined the military — was inspired to act yet again, this time to go back on active-duty. The elder Doane was granted reactivation and served until 1981, retiring as a colonel.  

1st Lt. Stephen Doane's sacrifice has not been forgotten. In 1997, the fallen soldier was inducted into the Army Ranger Hall of Fame. And while he only lived in Massachusetts for a few brief months of his life as an infant, the town of Beverly considers him a native son, naming a veterans' post there in his honor.  

More recently, in 2018, Gettysburg College unveiled a Vietnam memorial that honored its alumni and staff members, including Doane, who died during the war.  In July 2023, a bridge in Doane's hometown of Walton was renamed in his honor, and a memorial was presented to his family. 

This article is part of a weekly series called "Medal of Honor Monday," in which we highlight one of the more than 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have earned the U.S. military's highest medal for valor.

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