50 states, 50 heroes: Mad Dog

Published 6:30 am Saturday, September 26, 2020

Born May 14, 1946, in Norristown, Pennsylvania, David Charles Dolby enlisted in the Army in 1964 at the age of 18. After basic training, he became an Army Ranger and a member of the Green Berets. Dolby’s tenacity earned him the nickname “Mad Dog” from his fellow soldiers.

David Charles Dolby

In 1965, Spc. 4th Class Dolby was deployed to Vietnam as a heavy machine gunner with B Company, First Battalion, Eighth Cavalry Regiment, First Cavalry Division (Airmobile). During patrols, Dolby was known to scout the jungle ahead of the other men, holding his heavy M60 machine gun like a rifle.

On May 21, 1966, his platoon was on a mission near An Khe in the Central Highlands region of South Vietnam when it was ambushed by a Viet Cong force located on a nearby ridge in a position camouflaged by mats covered with jungle fronds. Six men were killed and several more were critically injured, including the platoon leader, 2nd Lt. Robert Crum Jr.

Dolby immediately began to try to evacuate the wounded men, but his every move drew fire from the enemy. Even so, Dolby was able to move the wounded to safety and deploy the rest of the platoon to engage the enemy. As Crum lay bloodied and dying, he relinquished control of the platoon to Dolby, ordering him to withdraw the forward elements of the platoon.

Now in command, Dolby positioned able-bodied men to cover the withdrawal of the forward elements. He then launched a lone attack on the enemy machine guns until his ammunition was spent. Upon replenishing his ammunition, he made another attack and killed three enemy soldiers, thus allowing his men to advance on the enemy position. It was there that he noticed a wounded American soldier. Dolby carried the wounded man to an area where he could be treated, then returned to the forward position, where he crawled to within 50 meters of the enemy position and marked it with smoke grenades for air strikes.

As the battle raged on, Dolby called in artillery strikes against the enemy and organized the evacuation of the 14 wounded men. As he did so, he constantly exposed himself to fire. After four hours, he succeeded in getting the platoon to a more secure location.

On Sept. 28, 1967, President Lyndon Johnson awarded Dolby the Medal of Honor. By then, Dolby had been promoted to Sergeant and was a member of First Brigade, 101st Airborne Division.

Despite initially being denied the opportunity to return, Dolby served four more tours of duty in Vietnam, which was highly unusual for a Medal of Honor recipient. During those tours, he served with various units, including the 101st Airborne, 75th Infantry (Ranger), Military Assistance Command Vietnam and Fifth Special Forces Group. He was also an adviser to the Vietnamese Rangers and the Royal Cambodian Army. He left the Army in 1971 with the rank of Staff Sergeant (he was demoted one grade in rank after being arrested for marijuana possession in 1969 and participating in a brawl in Vietnam).

Aside from the Medal of Honor, Dolby also received a Silver Star, Purple Heart and three Bronze Stars, among other awards.

After the Army, Dolby worked in a tire factory and steel mill and did contract painting with his brother. He ran into legal trouble in 1974 when he was arrested and sentenced to three years probation for cashing $1,200 in fraudulent checks under assumed names.

In his later years, Dolby lived in Royersford, Pennsylvania, and attended veteran events throughout the country. In 1993, he was inducted into the Ranger Hall of Fame.

In 2002, 36 years after the fight near An Khe, Dolby took part in a ceremony in Essex, New Jersey, to honor Crum. It was there that he told The Star-Ledger of Newark:

“(Crum) died in my arms. His last words were,  ‘How are my men? Don’t leave any of my men.’”

Dolby passed away on Aug. 6, 2010, while visiting fellow Vietnam veterans in Spirit Lake, Idaho. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.