2nd Lt. Donald J. Matocha 3rd Recon Bn, Delta Co., 1st Platoon
Died: April 5, 1968
Quang Tri Province, South Vietnam, Dong Ma Mountain / Hill 166
Body was unrecoverable at time of death and remained unrecovered for 36 years (1968-2004)
Donald J. Matocha, born January 31, 1945, was the son of the late Raymond and Celeste Matocha. The oldest of nine children, Donald grew up on his family’s farm in Bastrop County, Texas, near the small farming community of Smithville about 40 miles east of Austin. A typical day found the men of the Matocha family in the fields hours before dawn working cattle and crops while the women worked in the kitchen. Donald, known to family and friends as “Yogi”, enjoyed horse racing, listening to baseball games on the radio, collecting baseball cards and was an expert on country music trivia.
As a student at Smithville High School, Donald distinguished himself in academics, sports and various student activities. As a student member of The Future Farmers of America (FFA), Donald raised and sold cattle at auction which provided the money for his college fund.
During his senior year in high school, Donald was accepted as a student at Texas A&M University where he would pursue a degree in Civil Engineering. He graduated Magna Cum Laude from Smithville High School in 1963 and was the valedictorian for his class.
At Texas A&M, Donald continued to distinguish himself academically, making the “Dean’s List” as an honor student. As a member of the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets he was assigned to Company A-2 which is tasked with producing the historic Texas A&M yearbook known as the “Aggieland”. Other student activities led him to active membership in the American Society of Civil Engineers, the Student Engineers Council and the Semper Fi Society.
He joined the Marine Corps PLC program during his sophomore year and distinguished himself over both PLC summer training sessions at Quantico, VA. Returning to A&M for his junior year, Donald was selected to serve on Texas A&M’s prestigious honor guard - drill team, the Ross Volunteers.
In an engineering course which usually took 4-5 years to complete, Donald received his B.S in Civil Engineering in 3 ½ years with Honors. In January 1967, Donald was commissioned a 2nd Lt. in United States Marine Corps and
Issued orders to report to The Basic School in Quantico, VA, where he was assigned to TBS Class 5-67 “Mike” Company. He informed his TBS classmates not to call him “Donald” but “Bear”. In Oct of 1967, “Bear” and most of his fellow Marine officers received their orders for deployment to Vietnam and assignment to the 3rd Marine Division.
Within two days of arrival in Vietnam Donald had reported in to the S-1 office of the 3rd Recon Bn at Camp Carroll and was assigned to Charlie Company. His company commander, Capt. Stephen Hartnett, was part of the recon training staff assigned from 3rd Force Recon to manage advanced recon training for the Bn. Following a few practice patrol evaluations, Donald was approved by Capt. Hartnett to serve as a recon platoon leader in Charlie Company. He served in Charlie Company from Oct ’67 until Feb ’68 when a newly assigned 3rd Recon Bn CO transferred him to Delta Company 1st Platoon.
• 4 April 1968 - Team Dallas Girl Mission to Dong Ma Mountain
With 2nd Lt. Matocha in command, Team Dallas Girl, departed Camp Carroll on foot at 1630 hrs, 4 April, 1968 for Dong Ma Mountain aka Hill 166 with orders to recon and observe an NVA OP position reported to be on the south side of Dong Ma mountain, just north of Camp Carroll and Highway 9. The OP was spotting for an artillery and mortar position which was shelling Camp Carroll and Highway 9 regularly with pinpoint accuracy.
Late afternoon found Team Dallas Girl half way up the mountain and observing comm wire strung along a well-used trail. At nightfall, the team established a safe harbor site for the night, departing by 0600 hrs the next day, April 5th. By noon the team had reached a point on the northwest ridgeline. With Lt. Matocha in the lead, the team was moving in single-file formation up the ridgeline when they heard faint music, Vietnamese voice chatter and the smell of food cooking from a nearby bunker built into the massive rocks. Lt. Matocha moved up toward the opening of the cave bunker and tossed in a CS grenade. The fire fight erupted seconds later with multiple AK-47’s responding in full auto bursts focused on Team Dallas Girl from all sides.
“All of a sudden it seemed like the whole world had exploded into one big fire fight. The NVA regulars were firing from what seemed like every piece of rock, bush or landscape that was there. The team immediately moved downhill into a 360 position around the edge of an old bomb crater. I was just up on the ridge line when I saw Lt. Matocha get hit. He had caught a full burst from an AK-47. I started to move towards him immediately and the NVA put a round through my leg. I tried to reach him again but the enemy cut me off with full automatic fire. I looked at Lt. Matocha from about five feet away; he was already dead.” (Testimony of Navy Corpsman (HM3) Stan “Doc” Sellars, Team Dallas Girl medic)
Gunships arrived on station with strafing runs to facilitate extract. A CH-46 from HMM-262 arrived and under intense SA/AW ground fire, extracted all team survivors except for Lt. Matocha (KIA/BNR). Two additional attempts were made to recover Lt. Matocha’s body which would remain on Dong Ma Mountain for 36 years.
In 1996, Nguyen Van Loc, a former NVA soldier of the 35th Company, 320th NVA Division came into the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command office in Hanoi informing officials that on the morning of April 6, 1968, he and another NVA soldier had found and buried the body of an American Marine in a bomb crater near their OP bunker on Dong Ma Mountain.
Initial digs at the suspected grave site location on Dong Ma Mountain were unsuccessful and the case was closed in 1999. At the persistent request of the Matocha family, the case was reopened by JPAC in 2002. In 2003, Lt. Matocha’s remains were positively identified by dental records, his Texas A&M class ring inscribed with his name and other artifacts recovered at the dig site.
On September 18, 2004, after 36 years on Dong Ma Mountain, 2nd Lt. Donald J. Matocha, USMC, 3rd Recon Bn, Texas A&M ’67, returned home to Smithville, Texas where he was buried next to his parents, Raymond and Celeste Matocha and his brother Bernard.
“All gave some; some gave all”
Remembering 2nd Lt. Donald Matocha USMC, Texas A&M ‘67
•Capt. Stephen “Skip” Hartnett 3rd Force Recon assigned to 3rd Recon Bn CO Charlie Company 1967-1968 Donald was one of several new Lt.’s assigned to 3rd Recon Bn. during that time period (Oct 1967). Of the 3 new Lt.’s assigned to Charlie Company, Donald turned out to be the best of the group. Donald was a Texas A&M grad and a very likeable young gent willing to listen and learn. After 2 school patrols he received the recommendation from the Platoon Sgt. who had taken him out, that he was ready to “solo”.
One afternoon, as I was returning to my CP from the Recon COC at Division Hqs., I heard this horrible sound… I went out the back hatch and there sat young Donald on the steps playing a harmonica or at least trying to… I asked him, what is all that noise? He just smiled and said that it was a tune by Hank Williams Jr. I told him that to keep at it because it didn’t sound anything like it and he just smiled. Over the next several weeks when he was out of the field, he actually got better at it! And then he would start to learn a new one.
About a month and a half before I was to rotate to CONUS, Charlie Company was ordered to move to Aitu Combat Base and join the Battalion that had moved with the Division from Phu Bai. The Bn. S-1 gave me a heads up that Lt. Matocha was being transferred to Delta Co. I went to the Bn. Cdr. and asked why had I not been informed directly? He merely said that it was his decision and it was final.
The day that I was to rotate down to Da Nang and home, Team Dallas Girl was in heavy contact on the ridge of Dong Ma Mountain and they were experiencing heavy casualties. I rushed to the Recon COC and it was reported that Lt. Matocha was WIA and possibly a KIA.
During Donald’s time in Charlie Company, he and my XO, 1st Lt. Osborne, had become close friends. When the radio call came in that Team Dallas Girl was in trouble, a Recon action force was organized under Lt. Osborne to go in and assist with the evacuation of the casualties and recovery of any KIA’s. They were helo lifted into the site and under intense small arms fire, managed to evacuate everyone except Lt. Matocha.
I monitored on the radio most of all the traffic before I had to leave. The composite group led by Lt. Osborne also suffered some casualties (even my former driver, lost an arm in the exchange). About 15 years ago while at a conference in Philadelphia I had lunch with Osborne and he went into more detail on what occurred. He was still affected by young Donald’s loss.
•Capt. Gary Todd, Texas A&M ’60, was serving in G-2 on 3rd Mar Div Staff at Camp Carroll in April of 1968.
The CG started each day very early with briefings from a representative of each of the staff sections, starting with G-2. To be ready to give the briefing, I got up at 0400, so I could prepare by reading all accumulated G-2 message traffic and other material on enemy activities, select what the CG needed and assemble it into a briefing. I would usually be at the Camp Carroll mess hall by 0530 for a quick breakfast.
People from military schools often spot each other by noticing their college rings, and that was the case here. Just as I was sitting down to eat; I met a young second lieutenant wearing a Texas A&M class ring. We introduced ourselves and sat down to breakfast together, sharing memories of A&M, Texas and the present combat situation.
Like so many Marine lieutenants, he was a clean-cut, athletic-looking fellow. He was one of the small number who actually looked the part we were fulfilling there. As a former lieutenant, I could see myself in him – shiny young lieutenant, physically fit, hard-charging, eager to get involved, idealistic. It’s probably fair to say that most Marine lieutenants are like that, otherwise, we would be somewhere else doing something else. We finished our meal, shook hands and went our separate ways. That was April, 1968.
On August 8, 2004, an article appeared in the Austin newspaper about the remains of a long-lost Marine from nearby Smithville being recovered in Vietnam after 36 years. As I began reading the story, time frame, place, circumstances, etc., led me to the realization that this was the same young Aggie lieutenant I had visited with over breakfast at Camp Carroll that early April morning in 1968. A short time after our breakfast visit my lieutenant friend led a recon patrol up Dong Ma Mountain to locate a 75 mm pack howitzer, but instead got into a firefight with the NVA and was killed. I remain saddened beyond words over this tragic story.
•John “Doc’ Holladay Texas A&M ’67 Classmate, TBS 5-67 Mike Company, Brother Marine & Close Friend
Don was my best friend at Texas A&M, through both Marine PLC summer sessions and TBS 5-67 Mike. We went to Nam on the same flight in Oct ‘67. I wanted recon and he wanted a grunt outfit - happened the other way around and he wouldn’t switch with me. I wear my Aggie ring for him. I will always shed a tear or two for the loss of a great man & great friend. He will always be remembered.
•Ivar Gary Nelson USMC TBS 5-67 Mike Company Classmate & Friend
I had heard that you were a KIA before I got to Vietnam. My 6 weeks of additional specialized training got me in country about a month and a half after you first arrived. Just recently I learned that it took 36 years before they brought you home. Rest in peace friend.
One coincidence: In the second half of my tour I was assigned to Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines. To join them I was lowered by a sling from a helicopter through the treetops that covered Dong Ma Mountain. My new company had just captured two 75 mm howitzers made by General Electric in 1942. The NVA used them to erratically shell Camp Carroll near the bottom of the mountain. These, as I understand it, were the only enemy artillery pieces captured up to that time in the Vietnam War. Only this year (2008) did I discover that this was the exact spot that you were taken from us. Even after all these years, that chills me.
Semper Fi, Brother Marine and friend!
•George W. Long Texas A&M Roommate and Close Friend
I was Donald's roommate our first and second years (’63-’65) in the Corps of Cadets at Texas A&M University. In addition to the rigors of the Cadet Corps, Donald had a determined discipline in his studies, his religion and his personal life. He maintained the highest standard of conduct of any man I've known in his relations with others, in his work, his studies, his family, his thoughts and words. He was focused, resolute, steadfast, always gentle and never angry.
Donald completed his degree in Civil Engineering in three and a half years at a time when the University was considering making undergraduate engineering a five year course because so few were completing it in the prescribed four. His penchant for hard work distinguished him in a crowd of hard workers. He was the most disciplined man I have ever known.
After his death in 1968 and my return from Viet Nam, I visited his family in Smithville in October of 1974. His mother, Celeste Matocha, aka "Mother Theresa of Smithville" comforted me about his loss. She told me that Donald had two goals in life; one was to become an Aggie, the other to become a Marine, and he accomplished them both. Then, she told me a remarkable story that confirmed my impression of Donald Matocha as the most disciplined man I would ever know.
She told me that after six months in Viet Nam he was given R&R for one week to return home to Smithville, and that minutes before he left to return to Viet Nam, he took her aside to speak privately with her. Knowing the danger of his mission in Viet Nam (and, I believe, knowing his dedication to duty and his love of his comrades) he told her, in quiet, measured, unemotional tones, that he would not be returning from Viet Nam. Donald told his mother that she should not worry for him nor be resentful or bitter about his loss. Several weeks later, he was dead.
I've often wondered how many people, knowing rationally the danger that they faced and knowing, to a certainty, that they would die in the effort, would travel half way around the world to meet their fate. How many people in that circumstance would instead seek delay, protection, escape or safety?
One who would not was LT Donald J. Matocha, the most disciplined man I will ever know.
I miss him to this day.
•Tom Collins Texas A&M ’64 CO Company A-2 / Texas A&M Corps of Cadets
I was Donald's CO (Company A-2) at Texas A&M. Of all the freshman “fish” in my outfit, he stood out as the one I most expected to be a future leader of that outfit. I never got to follow the unit after I graduated as I married and was then sent off to Vietnam to serve with the 1st Infantry Division from Oct 65 until Oct 66.
In 2004, while we were relocating to the Texas Hill Country, I read in the newspapers that Donald had been lost in action and that after 36 years his remains were found and returned to his home town where he was buried.
In March of 2014, I attended the dedication of the Texas Vietnam Monument dedication at the State Capital grounds. Each of the 3417 Texans that were lost in Vietnam had their names engraved on an original Dog Tag and all 3417 were enshrined in a granite monument next to the Veterans Monument. They also made duplicates of each of the Dog Tags and are now displayed in the basement of the Capital. I searched and found his Dog Tag and took a picture of it that I will send to the Wall. God Bless his family and may God bring him peace now that he is home.