Donald Blackburn

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Donald D. Blackburn
Donald Blackburn.jpg
Nickname(s) "Don"
Born (1916-09-14)September 14, 1916
McLean, Virginia
Died May 24, 2008(2008-05-24) (aged 91)
Sarasota, Florida
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch United States Army seal United States Army
Years of service 1940–1971
Rank US-O7 insignia.svg Brigadier General
Unit 12th Infantry Division
7th Special Forces Group
82nd Airborne Division
Commands held 11th Infantry Regiment, Philippine Commonwealth Army
Studies and Observations Group
82nd Airborne Division
Battles/wars World War II
Vietnam War
Awards Silver Star (1944)
Bronze Star (1946)
Legion of Merit (1970)
Vietnam Service Medal

Brigadier General Donald C. "Don" Blackburn (United States Army, retired) (September 14, 1916 – May 24, 2008) was a United States Army Special Forces officer, best known for his significant command and developmental roles in the U.S. Army Special Forces.

He was also the commander of the highly classified Studies and Observations Group from 1965 to 1966. Since most of his military career involved clandestine operations, many of Blackburn's exploits remain unknown to the general public.

Army service[edit]

Donald Blackburn was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Infantry Reserve on May 30, 1938, and entered into active duty with the Army September 22, 1940, assigned to the 24th Infantry at Fort Benning, Ga.

World War 2[edit]

At the outbreak of World War II, he was serving as an advisor to a battalion of the 12th Infantry Regiment, Philippine Commonwealth Army.

Upon the fall of Bataan in April 1942, he evaded capture with his friend Captain Russell W. Volckmann, and until October 1945 conducted the Commonwealth military and guerrilla warfare on the island of Luzon. During this latter period, he reorganized and commanded the 11th Infantry Regiment, Philippine Commonwealth Army, which was integrated in October 1945 as a regular unit in the Philippine Army, under Major Eulogio Balao.[1]:268,323

In Jan. 1945, Blackburn established his headquarters in Tuao, building a C-47 airfield, roads, and re-establishing schools and hospitals in the Kalinga, Bontoc, Cagayan and Apayao.[1]:286 By March 1945, Blackburn's regiment consisted of 5000 guerrillas, including Igorots and Bolomen.[1]:286 Blackburn's men supported Sixth United States Army Force B, in the capture of Aparri on 20 June 1945.[1]:302 Blackburn was awarded the Silver Star after he led his men in the capture of Mayoyao, Ifugao, a stronghold of General Mikami's forces in Aug. 1945.[1]:319 Blackburn's forces received the surrender of Generals Mikami's and Marauka's forces on 14 Aug.[1]:322

Post World War 2[edit]

Following World War II Blackburn served in various command and staff assignments. He was assigned to the Department of Military Psychology and Leadership, Tactical Department, United States Military Academy, in 1950. During 1953, he attended the Armed Forces Staff College, Norfolk, Va. He was then assigned to NATO's Allied Forces Northern Europe, Oslo, Norway. On return to the United States in 1956, he was assigned as commanding officer, 3rd Training Regiment, Fort Jackson, S.C.

Vietnam War[edit]

In 1957, he was assigned to MAAG, Vietnam, and served as the senior advisor to the commanding general, 5th Military Region (Mekong Delta). In October 1958, he was assigned as commanding officer, 77th Special Forces Group (now the 7th SFG) where he was instrumental in initiating Special Forces operations in Southeast Asia. He attended the 1960 class of the National War College.

He served as deputy director of developments for Special Warfare, Office of the Chief of Research and Development from 1961 to 1964, and then was reassigned to the office, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations as Director of Special Warfare. Blackburn was SOG Commander (Studies and Observations Group) Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, from May 1965 to May 1966.

Post Vietnam[edit]

He served as the assistant deputy director, Defense Communications Planning Group from August 1966 to August 1967, the assistant division commander, 82nd Airborne Division from September 1967 to October 1968, and the Director of Plans and Programs, office of the Chief of Research and Development from October 1968 until his retirement in 1971.

While 77th/7th SFG(A) Commander, he assembled the first Operation White Star Mobile Training Teams. The first itieration was led by Bull Simons whom he had first gotten to know from the Philippines. While in the position, he authorized and oversaw the initial election of the Son Tay POW for Operation Ivory Coast, briefing LTG Wheeler. He was part of the briefing with Dr. Henry Kissinger. He is the one that chose BG Manor (Air Force and overall commander of the Raid), Bull Simons, Dick Meadows and "Doc" Cataldo. After the Raid, he was the one that navigated the furor over the fact there were no prisoners.[2]

Popular Culture[edit]

Blackburn's exploits as a guerrilla leader during World War II in northern Luzon, Philippines, were chronicled in the following book: "Blackburn's Headhunters" by Philip Harkins (W.W. NORTON & COMPANY INC., 1955). (Christopher L. Turner) The Harkins book was made into a film called Surrender - Hell! with Keith Andes playing Blackburn and released in 1959 by Allied Artists films. Blackburn was the technical advisor on the film.

In retirement[edit]

Following his retirement from military service, Blackburn took a position with Braddock Dunn & McDonald, where he served as vice president, special projects until he retired in 1979.

Medals and decorations[edit]

Brig. Gen. Blackburn was awarded the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit with three Oak Leaf Clusters, Bronze Star, Army Commendation Medal, Air Medal, the Gold Star Medal (Philippines), the Medal of Merit (Philippines) and the Vietnam Army Distinguished Service Medal. He was authorized to wear the Distinguished Unit Citation with three Oak Leaf Clusters, the Philippines Presidential Unit Citation, the Combat Infantryman's Badge and the Master Parachutist Badge.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f Harkins, P., 1956, Blackburn's Headhunters, London: Cassell & Co. LTD
  2. ^ ROXANNE M. MERRITT Director, JFK Special Warfare Museum 910-432-4272/1533; DSN: 239 910-432-4062 fax merrittr@soc.mil; Roxanne.M.Merritt@us.army.mil