Donald Edward Koelper – Major, United States Marine Corps


Thanks to Major Koelper's son, Donald R. Koelper for the following information:

“DONALD EDWARD KOELPER was born on August 21, 1931 in Northbrook, Illinois and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps during the Korean War.

“A member of the Vietnam Military Assistance Group, he lost his life in a Viet Cong terror raid on February 16, 1964 while serving as an advisor to the South Vietnamese Marines. He was the first U.S. Marine to die in the Vietnam War.

“While in the lobby of the Kinh Do Theater in Saigon, Captain Koelper witnessed a Viet Cong agent shoot and kill the American MP guarding the theater entrance, while another entered the building with a 25 lb. bomb.  When confronted by Captain Koelper in the lobby, that agent pulled the fuse, dropped the bomb, and fled from the theater lobby.

“Realizing that there was no time for any evacuation of the hundreds of  Americans already inside and seated, Captain Koelper rushed into the theater and shouted a warning to patrons to take cover under their seats.  According to witnesses, it was only a matter of seconds before the bomb detonated, killing Captain Koelper and an Army officer and injuring several score. However, Captain Koelper's quick and timely reaction to the Viet Cong attack prevented a far greater calamity and loss of life.

“For his courageous actions, Captain Koelper was posthumously promoted to major, awarded the Navy Cross and the Purple Heart, and returned to the United States for burial in Section 3 of Arlington National Cemetery.”


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