A Selfless Hero: The Story of Donald Sloat
Written by Communications Intern, Kalli McCoy
On January 17th, 1970, Donald Sloat went above and beyond the call of duty when he unhesitatingly covered an enemy grenade with his body, shielding and saving soldiers in his patrol. Sloat was finally recognized for his valor and selflessness in 2014 when he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
Donald Sloat was born in Coweta, Oklahoma on February 6th, 1949. After attending Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College in Miami, Oklahoma, he enlisted in the U.S. Army in March of 1969. Sloat was assigned as a M60 Machine Gunner with the 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment, 196th Light Infantry Brigade, Americal Division after completing initial training at Fort Polk in Louisiana.
Sloat was no stranger to bravery on the battle field. He was awarded the Bronze Medal for Valor twice during his time “in country” because of acts of heroism when his patrol was ambushed. On January 17th 1970, a month shy of his 21st birthday, Sloat performed a final courageous act and gave his life to protect his fellow soldiers. On the morning of January 17th, Sloat and his squad were conducting a patrol in the Que Son valley while simultaneously serving as a blocking element for armored personnel and tanks. The area was heavily
fortified with enemy booby traps, one of which was tripped by the lead soldier. As an enemy grenade rolled down the hill, Sloat bravely picked it up, looking for a safe place to throw it. When he realized that throwing the grenade would endanger other American soldiers, Sloat drew the grenade close to his body and bent over it before it exploded. Sloat fatally absorbed much of the impact of the blast and saved the lives of his platoon.
Sloat’s incredibly heroic actions saved the lives of his fellow soldiers Bill Hacker, Elwood Tipton, Michael Mulheim, and Dewayne Lewis. Elwood’s widow, Shirley, tells of the moment she learned of the sacrifice that saved her husband:
“He [Elwood] told me he had been hurt in a grenade ambush and his best friend was killed. He started crying and said Don saved everybody else’s life because he picked up the grenade and it went off while he was holding it. We talked about that a lot over the years and always knew that we owed our life together and our family to Don and his bravery.”
Shirley and these veterans worked with Sloat’s family , especially his mother, Evelyn, for years to get him awarded the Medal of Honor.
Sloat is remembered by family and friends on his Wall of Faces page as a “gentle giant” and a lover of football. Isaac Mitchell writes,
“The big Dutchman and I had lots of conversations about life. He truly had a love for football. If memory serves me right he played some college ball. I still remember that morning when I was returning from a night mission and he was headed out on patrol. Our last words to each other were ‘Check you later.’ This is a quote from Don that has lingered in my soul for years. As we talked about our plan when returning to the World, he pointed to his watch and said to me ‘each tick of the watch places me closer to home.’ “
On September 15th 2014, a ceremony was held at the White House awarding the Medal of Honor posthumously to Sloat, as well as to living veteran Bennie Adkins. The Official Citation for Sloat’s Medal of Honor notes his, “extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty.” Sloat’s brother, Dr. William Sloat, accepted the award on his behalf. Members of Sloat’s family, as well as the soldiers he saved and their families, were also in attendance.
Donald Sloat is just one example of gallantry, valor, and sacrifice that exemplifies the tradition of the U.S. military. His incredible story is an inspiration for others and his legacy lives on through those he saved.
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