Name: RD McDonell 
Rank/Branch: Staff Sergeant/US Army 
Unit: 1st Squad, Troop B, 1st Cavalry, 
23rd Infantry Division 

Date of Birth: 21 January 1943
Home of Record: Sweetwater, TX
Date of Loss: 25 March 1971 
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 164252N 1064203E (XD813486)
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Killed/Body Not Recovered 
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: Ground
Other Personnel In Incident: Manuel R. Puentes and Richard J. Rossano (missing) 


SYNOPSIS:  On 25 March 1971, then PFC Manuel R. Puentes, Cpl. Richard J. Rossano, and SSgt. RD McDonell were assigned as riflemen of a 12 man patrol conducting a combat operation to interdict communist activity in the rugged jungle covered mountains northwest of Khe Sanh, Quang Tri Province, South Vietnam. The patrol leader during this mission was Jimmy C. Johnson.

As the patrol moved through the hotly contested area just east of a secondary road that generally ran north/south through the mountains, it was ambushed by an enemy force of unknown size. Surviving patrol members reported that Richard Rossano was the first American to be wounded. After being struck in the chest by shrapnel from a grenade, Cpl. Rossano was seen clutching his chest, which was covered in blood, before falling to the ground.

Shortly thereafter Manuel Puentes was wounded. He was observed moving under his own power in front of other patrol members' positions as he sought cover. As the intense firefight continued, RD McDonell picked up an enemy grenade that had landed near him. However, before he could throw it back toward the enemy, it exploded in his hand killing him instantly.

The radio operator reported the rapidly deteriorating conditions in which the patrol found itself. A reaction force was quickly assembled and sent to assist the embattled patrol. Unfortunately before the reaction force reached the ambush site, the survivors were forced to withdraw under fire. As they withdrew, they were forced to leave PFC Puentes, Cpl. Rossano, SSgt. McDonell and Jimmy Johnson, the patrol leader, behind.

The reaction force made several attempts to reenter the battle site, but well-entrenched communist forces blocked each attempt. When American personnel were finally able to enter the ambush site, they found Jimmy Johnson badly wounded, but still alive. He had sustained several serious wounds to his lower body. After medically evacuating Jimmy Johnson, the team searched in and around the battle site for RD McDonell, Richard Rossano and Manuel Puentes, but found no trace of the missing riflemen. Likewise, they found no sign of freshly dug graves. At the time the search effort was terminated, RD McDonell and Richard Rossano were listed Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered and Manuel Puentes was listed Missing in Action.

The battle site was located in heavily forested and rugged mountains approximately 9 miles northwest of Khe Sanh, 9 miles east of the South Vietnamese/Lao border, 21 miles south the demilitarized zone (DMZ) and 22 miles east-southeast of Firebase Vandergrift.

For RD McDonell and Richard Rossano, both of whom were known or believed to have died during the firefight; and Manuel Puentes, who was last known to be alive and moving toward cover, many questions remain unanswered. If they are dead, each man has a right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. However, if any of them survived, they most certainly would have been captured by communist forces who were in control of the entire area after the battle and their fate, like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, could be quite different.

Since the end of the Vietnam War well over 21,000 reports of American prisoners, missing and otherwise unaccounted for have been received by our government. Many of these reports document LIVE America Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.

Military men in Vietnam were called upon to fight in many dangerous circumstances, and they were prepared to be wounded, killed or captured. It probably never occurred to them that they could be abandoned by the country they so proudly served.