Medal of Honor recipient David C. Dolby dies at 64; had troubled post-military career

By T. Rees Shapiro
Friday, August 13, 2010; B07

David C. Dolby, 64, who received the Medal of Honor for saving his Army platoon in Vietnam but had a troubled post-military career that included a conviction for cashing fraudulent checks, died Aug. 6 in Spirit Lake, Idaho. He lived in Royersford, Pa.

His brother, Daniel Dolby, said Mr. Dolby had been visiting fellow Vietnam veterans in Idaho, but he did not know the cause of death.

Mr. Dolby -- "Mad Dog," as he was known to his Army comrades -- was a solid 6-footer who wrestled and played football in high school. He enlisted in the Army at 18 and became an Army Ranger and a member of the Green Berets. He was known to scout the jungle ahead of the other men, toting his heavy M60 machine gun like a rifle.

On May 21, 1966, then-Spec. 4th Class Dolby was in the middle of his first tour in Vietnam. He was part of a 1st Cavalry Division platoon on a mission near An Khe when the men walked into an ambush.

Six soldiers were immediately killed by machine-gun fire.

Several others were wounded, including the platoon's officer, 2nd Lt. Robert H. Crum Jr. Within an hour of the ambush's first shots, the lieutenant, drenched in blood from bullet wounds, sat against a tree and relinquished command of his men to Spec. Dolby.

In Brig. Gen. S.L.A. Marshall's 1967 book about Vietnam, "Battles in the Monsoon," an entire chapter is dedicated to Spec. Dolby's rescue efforts. Marshall said Spec. Dolby was "one of the rarest of warriors -- a man with keen imagination who at the same time, when under fire, seems to be wholly without fear."

While fully exposed to enemy fire, Spec. Dolby launched his own assault on the enemy machine gun bunkers until he'd expended all of his ammunition.

"I prayed in the beginning and then I didn't have time to pray," Spec. Dolby later said of the action on the ridge that day, noting that "bullets were going by -- under my arms, between my legs, past my head."

After reloading, he single-handedly killed three enemy machine gunners, according to his Medal of Honor citation. Spotting a wounded comrade, Spec. Dolby picked the man up and carried him over his shoulder to safety for medical treatment. He then crawled through gunfire to within 50 meters of the enemy positions, which were concealed within the ridge by camouflage mats covered with jungle fronds. He lobbed several smoke grenades at the face of the bunkers to mark them for air strikes.

After a four-hour battle, Spec. Dolby organized the withdrawal of his troops while artillery fire and air strikes obliterated the Vietcong redoubt. The platoon lost eight men, and 14 were wounded, including Sgt. Alonzo Peoples.

"The bravest man I ever knew, maybe the bravest that ever lived," Peoples later called Spec. Dolby. "He saved all of us."

An Army report counted 55 dead enemies on the ridge and estimated that 100 others were killed or wounded. On Sept. 28, 1967, Mr. Dolby -- who had been promoted to sergeant -- received the Medal of Honor from President Lyndon B. Johnson in a White House ceremony.

In a highly unusual turn of events, Mr. Dolby served four more tours in Vietnam after receiving the country's highest award for valor. He said of his continuous service, "If I'm going to be in the Army, I'd rather be in Vietnam where the actions is. I feel I can be of more help to my fellow men there."

His other military decorations included the Silver Star, three awards of the Bronze Star Medal and the Purple Heart.

Mr. Dolby's life after receiving the Medal of Honor was marked by controversy. In 1969, he was arrested for possession of marijuana and for participating in a brawl in Vietnam. He was fined $342 and reduced a grade in rank. He left the Army in 1971 as a staff sergeant. He later worked in a tire factory and a steel mill and was a painting contractor with his brother.

In 1974, Mr. Dolby was arrested by FBI agents for cashing at least 58 fraudulent checks under assumed names and worth between $8 and $500 during a trip to Hawaii. He pleaded guilty to cashing $1,200 in bad checks and was placed on three years' probation.

Upon receiving his sentence, Mr. Dolby told the court: "I'm sorry to say I made such a poor and incredible decision at the time."

David Charles Dolby was born May 14, 1946, in Norristown, Pa. His father was a personnel manager at a BFGoodrich tire plant and had been a prisoner of war during World War II.

His wife, Xuan Dolby, whom he met in Vietnam, died in 1987. Besides his brother of Coventryville, Pa., he is survived by his mother, Mary Dolby of Laureldale, Pa.

"Look, we're all equal," Mr. Dolby once said of Medal of Honor recipients. "We all did things that, if we had chosen not to do, nobody would have said we should have done. We all had that one moment in our lives. Other than that, we're just normal people."

© 2010 The Washington Post Company