Don Holleder

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Donald Holleder
Holleder on the cover of Sports Illustrated
Born(1934-08-03)August 3, 1934
Buffalo, New York
DiedOctober 17, 1967(1967-10-17) (aged 33)
Ong Thanh, Vietnam
Place of burial
AllegianceUnited States
Service/branchEmblem of the United States Department of the Army.svg United States Army
Years of service1956–1967
RankUS-O4 insignia.svg Major
Unit2nd Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division
Battles/warsVietnam War
*Battle of Ong Thanh 
AwardsDistinguished Service Cross
Silver Star
Soldier's Medal
Bronze Star Medal
Purple Heart

Donald Walter Holleder (August 3, 1934 – October 17, 1967) was an American college football star while attending the United States Military Academy and later assistant football coach for the United States Military Academy, who was later killed in the Vietnam War.

Early life and football career[edit]

Holleder was born in Buffalo, New York, and at age 13, he and his family moved to Irondequoit, New York.[1] He attended high school at the Aquinas Institute in nearby Rochester. He was heavily recruited by a number of top college football recruiters, including West Point's offensive coach Vince Lombardi.

He elected to enroll at the United States Military Academy at West Point. As a junior in 1954, he was named to the All-America team as an end. The following season, Army head coach Colonel Red Blaik asked him to move to quarterback. Holleder clearly lacked the skills to be a productive passer, but Blaik felt that his leadership skills were important and would help the struggling team improve. Blaik's move was ridiculed but it paid off. The team finished with a record of 6-3-0, including a rousing upset of Navy that led to Holleder's appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

One of Holleder's classmates at West Point was General Norman Schwarzkopf. They both graduated in the Class of 1956.

1956 NFL draft[edit]

The New York Giants selected Holleder in the 1956 NFL Draft college draft. However, Holleder was not interested in a professional football career.

Military career[edit]

After graduating from West Point, he continued to serve in the U.S. Army. Over the next ten years, he rose to the rank of Major, serving posts in Hawaii and Korea, and in between returning to West Point for three years as an assistant football coach, recruiter, and scout.[2]

Battle of Ong Thanh[edit]

In 1967, Holleder, now a Major, requested to be sent to Vietnam, where he became the Operations Officer for 1st Brigade of the 1st Infantry Division.

During the Battle of Ong Thanh on Tuesday October 17, 1967, he and his commanding officer were overflying the battle in a helicopter. They observed the entire command unit on the ground had been killed and the remaining men were in serious trouble. Don volunteered to organize a rescue effort. Upon landing, Holleder secured three volunteers and rushed to the battle site. Running far in front of his volunteers, he was shot by a sniper. The volunteers who accompanied him pulled him into cover behind a tree. Before they could apply emergency first aid, Holleder died.[2] He is interred in Arlington National Cemetery.

Personal life[edit]

Holleder had a wife and four daughters.[citation needed]


In 1974, the football stadium in his hometown of Rochester was renamed Holleder Memorial Stadium in his honor. The stadium was home to the football team of his high school Alma Mater, Aquinas Institute. In 1985 the stadium was torn down where the Holleder Technology Park now stands on the site, bisected by Holleder Parkway.

In 1985, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, and that same year, West Point's basketball/hockey arena was named in his honor (The Donald W. Holleder Center). Each year, the Army football team recognizes one of their players with the Black Lion Award, given "to a player who best exemplifies the character of Don Holleder, leadership, courage, devotion to duty, self sacrifice and, above all, an unselfish concern to put the team ahead of himself."

He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross on April 27, 2012.[3]

David Maraniss' book They Marched Into Sunlight is currently in production for a 6-part series for FX and will include Holleder's story.[4][5][needs update]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Connors, Greg (December 10, 2010). "Recalling WNY's homegrown Army hero". The Buffalo News. Retrieved June 5, 2017.
  2. ^ a b Tibbetts, Terry (2011). A Spartan Game: the Life and Loss of Don Holleder. Bloomington, Indiana: iUniverse. pp. 238–239. ISBN 9781450290807.
  3. ^ Tumulty, Brian (April 28, 2012). "Heroism of Holleder honored 44 years later". Democrat and Chronicle. Rochester, New York. p. 1. Retrieved June 5, 2017.
  4. ^ "They Marched Into Sunlight". IMDb.
  5. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (1 April 2013). "FX Teams With Stephen Gaghan For Limited Series About The Vietnam War". Deadline Hollywood.

External links[edit]