Donald Sidney Skidgel craved excitement and adventure. Born in Caribou, Maine, on Oct. 13, 1948, and raised in a rural area of Plymouth, he loved the outdoors and became an avid hunter. Bored with school, he dropped out at 16 and worked in Connecticut but returned to rural Maine in his free time to speed over rough, dirt-covered roads on his motorcycle.
At age 18, Skidgel married and started a family. Still seeking adventure, he tried to join the military in 1967. However, at that point in the war neither the Army nor the Marine Corps wanted a married man with one child and another on the way.
That changed with the communist Tet Offensive in January 1968 and the consequent buildup of U.S. forces in Vietnam. One month before his second daughter was born, Skidgel received his draft notice.
After basic training, he began advanced training as a tank crew member at Fort Knox, Kentucky. He volunteered for airborne training for the adventure of jumping from an aircraft and the extra $50 a month to support his family. By the time Skidgel finished training in August 1968, he and his wife had divorced. She was pregnant with their third child.
The following year Skidgel was sent to Vietnam and arrived there in May 1969. Now a sergeant, he was assigned to an armored personnel carrier in a reconnaissance unit of Troop D, 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile).
On Sept. 14, 1969, Skidgel was serving as a reconnaissance section leader when elements of his troop were operating as a security force for a truck convoy on a remote road north of Saigon near the Cambodian border. A battalion-sized enemy force waited until the 2½-ton trucks came into range and then opened fire from tall grass and fortified bunkers along the road.
As the trucks swerved and careened to avoid a hail of fire from small arms, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, Skidgel ordered his driver to go off-road, directly into the center of the enemy ambush. Atop his vehicle, he poured machine-gun fire into the enemy ranks, silencing at least one enemy position.
As the battle raged and trucks tried to push past the kill zone, Skidgel grabbed his M60 machine gun and dismounted. He ran alone and unprotected across 65 yards of bullet-riddled terrain to a vantage point where, in his exposed position, he rained deadly fire on enemy troops for 15 minutes, forcing them to turn the bulk of their fire on him, which enabled the remainder of the truck convoy to organize a resistance. When his ammunition ran low, Skidgel raced back through the enemy fire to his vehicle.
Remounted, Skidgel learned by radio that the convoy’s command vehicle was taking heavy fire. He ordered his driver directly into the enemy, continuing to man his machine gun from atop his mount and again drawing enemy fire upon himself.
Braving the fusillade, he destroyed several enemy positions before a rocket-propelled grenade exploded into his vehicle. Skidgel was wounded in the explosion and knocked from his gunner’s seat onto the rear fender.
The battered and bloody Skidgel staggered to his feet and returned to his gun. The driver, aware of his sergeant’s multiple wounds, implored him to quit, but he would not. Urging his driver forward, Skidgel continued his assault, again drawing the enemy’s attention and relieving pressure on the command vehicle. In the onslaught of enemy fire, he was mortally wounded.
The sergeant’s heroic and selfless actions enabled the command group to withdraw to a better position without casualties and inspired his comrades to destroy the enemy.
Skidgel was buried with military honors at Sawyer Cemetery in Plymouth.
A posthumous Medal of Honor was presented to Terry Skidgel, the 3-year-old son Skidgel had never seen. Vice President Spiro T. Agnew made the presentation in Washington on Dec. 16, 1971, in the presence of Skidgel’s family. V
Doug Sterner, an Army veteran who served two tours in Vietnam, is curator of the Military Times Hall of Valor database of U.S. valor awards.
This article appeared in the April 2021 issue of Vietnam magazine. For more stories from Vietnam magazine, subscribe here and visit us on Facebook: