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Phill Gene McDonald
Courtesy Vietnam Veterans
Memorial Fund

West Virginia Veterans Memorial


Phill Gene McDonald

"The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."

Thomas Jefferson

Army Private First Class Phill Gene McDonald was born in Avondale, McDowell County, West Virginia, on September 23, 1941. His mother's name was Vanlora Roberts McDonald and his father's name was Oscar Fred McDonald. He had a twin sister named Phyllis June McDonald-Waldron. They were the oldest of twelve children, and they did their best to raise their siblings after their parents died. Eventually the children went into foster care, and Phil dropped out of high school at the age of sixteen.

Phill moved to Greensboro, Guilford County, North Carolina, and spent his time working at a cedar plant. In his free time, he devoted himself to the Assembly of God church. There he became a Sunday school instructor, where he sang songs and played his guitar. According to the 1940 Federal Census, Greensboro had a growing population of 59,319. During World War II, Greensboro contributed to the war effort by hosting a major Army Air Force Base, the only Army camp located entirely within a U.S. city, which opened in 1943. Later, it became known as the Overseas Replacement Depot (ORD) and processed military personnel going to overseas duty and, later, those leaving the service. The ORD, located in northeast Greensboro, greatly changed the city, bringing in over 300,000 members of the military during the war years. During the time he lived in North Carolina, it had more than 100 military installations, which was home to more soldiers, sailors, coast guardsmen, and marines than any other state, which was more than 10 percent of the state's population.

The Vietnam War was a long, costly, and divisive conflict that pitted the communist government of North Vietnam against South Vietnam and its principal ally, the United States. More than three million people, including over 58,000 Americans were killed in the Vietnam War, and more than half of the dead were Vietnamese civilians. Phill had been briefly married, which delayed him from the draft, but eventually he was drafted one day before his 26th birthday.

Six months later, Phill began his tour in Vietnam on March 22, 1968, as an Infantryman - 11B. Phill was assigned to Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division. Phil quickly earned the nickname "Preacher" due to his bible-studying habits.
Phill G. McDonald in Vietnam.

Phill G. McDonald in Vietnam. Courtesy Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund

On June 7, 1968, Phill's unit was on a combat patrol when they came under heavy attack from the enemy near Kon Tum City in the Republic of Vietnam, during which he was killed after attacking the enemy multiple times with machine gun fire and grenades. For his courageous actions that day, Pfc. Phill McDonald was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. His citation reads:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Private First Class McDonald distinguished himself while serving as a team leader with the 1st platoon of Company A. While on a combat mission his platoon came under a heavy barrage of automatic weapons fire from a well concealed company-size enemy force. Volunteering to escort 2 wounded comrades to an evacuation point, PFC McDonald crawled through intense fire to destroy with a grenade an enemy automatic weapon threatening the safety of the evacuation. Returning to his platoon, he again volunteered to provide covering fire for the maneuver of the platoon from its exposed position. Realizing the threat he posed, enemy gunners concentrated their fire on PFC McDonald's position, seriously wounding him. Despite his painful wounds, PFC McDonald recovered the weapon of a wounded machine gunner to provide accurate covering fire for the gunner's evacuation. When other soldiers were pinned down by a heavy volume of fire from a hostile machine gun to his front, PFC McDonald crawled toward the enemy position to destroy it with grenades. He was mortally wounded in this intrepid action. PFC McDonald's gallantry at the risk of his life which resulted in the saving of the lives of his comrades is in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflects great credit upon himself, his unit, and the U.S. Army.

After his death, Pfc. Phill Gene McDonald's remains were returned to the U.S. as he was buried at the Guilford Memorial Park, Greensboro, North Carolina.

Phill G. McDonald Bridge

View of the Phill G. McDonald (Glade Creek) Bridge, June 2006. From Wikimedia Commons, original from Creative Commons Attribution- Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

For his heroic efforts and sacrifices, PFC McDonald was honored with a bridge named for him in Raleigh County, West Virginia. Also known as the Glade Creek Bridge, the Phill G. McDonald Memorial Bridge was one of the top ten highest bridges in the United States. The bridge has a main span length of 784 feet and a total length of 2,179 feet. The completion of the bridge was the final part of I-64 to be built in West Virginia with Governor Arch Moore opening the bridge at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on July 15, 1988. In June 2009, Phill's portrait and Medal of Honor citation were displayed at the county courthouse in Welch, West Virginia, a special tribute to McDowell County's first Medal of Honor recipient.

Private First Class McDonald is remembered on Panel 59 W, Line 26 on the Vietnam Veteran Wall. Today, there is also a memorial marker that stands in the Phill G. McDonald Plaza at the Guilford County Governmental Center in Greensboro, North Carolina. A simple, unadorned, lectern-shaped concrete marker commemorates Army Private First Class Phill G. McDonald. A square bronze tablet is attached to the top.

Article prepared by Cassidy Adkins and Maj. (Ret) T. B. McGee, George Washington High School JROTC
March 2019


Phill Gene McDonald

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