Donald Blackburn

Brigadier General Donald Dunwody "Don" Blackburn (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.

Donald Dunwody Blackburn
Donald Blackburn.jpg
Born(1916-09-14)September 14, 1916
West Palm Beach, Florida
DiedMay 24, 2008(2008-05-24) (aged 91)
Sarasota, Florida
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branchUnited States Army seal United States Army
Years of service1940–1971
RankUS-O7 insignia.svg Brigadier General
Unit12th Infantry Division
7th Special Forces Group
82nd Airborne Division
Commands held11th Infantry Regiment, Philippine Commonwealth Army
Studies and Observations Group
82nd Airborne Division
Battles/warsWorld War II
Vietnam War
AwardsArmy Distinguished Service Medal (2)
Silver Star
Legion of Merit (4)
Bronze Star
Purple Heart
Air Medal

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 serviceEdit

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, Georgia.

World War IIEdit

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 Commonwealth Army, under Major Eulogio Balao.[1]:268,323

In January 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 soldiers and 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 August 1945.[1]:319 Blackburn's forces received the surrender of Generals Mikami's and Marauka's forces on 14 August.[1]:322


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. He was promoted to the rank of colonel (O-6) on 20 July 1955. On return to the United States in 1956, he was assigned as commanding officer, 3rd Training Regiment, Fort Jackson, S.C.

Vietnam WarEdit

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. In 1959, as commander of the 77th SFG, Blackburn spearheaded Operation Hotfoot and it follow on, Operation White Star, in Laos.[2] Operation White Star, which lasted from July 1959 to October 1962, used U.S. Army Special Forces to support the Royal Laotian government in operations against the Pathet Lao communist insurgency.

Following his command of the 77th SFG, Blackburn attended the 1960 class of the National War College and graduated in 1961.[citation needed] He then served as deputy director of developments for Special Warfare, Office of the Chief of Research and Development from 1961 to 1964.[citation needed] He was 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.[citation needed] On 7 January 1968, Blackburn was promoted to brigadier general. [3]

In 1969 Blackburn was appointed as Special Assistant for Counterinsurgency and Special Activities (SACSA) and acted as the primary advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on special operations. In that capacity, he assembled the first Operation White Star Mobile Training Teams. The first iteration 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 Camp for Operation Ivory Coast in 1970, briefing General Earle Wheeler, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He was part of the briefing of National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger. He is the one that chose Air Force BG Leroy J. Manor as 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 at Son Tay.[4]

After VietnamEdit

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.

Popular cultureEdit

Blackburn's exploits as a guerrilla leader during World War II in northern Luzon, Philippines, were chronicled in the book Blackburn's Headhunters by Philip Harkins (W.W. Norton & Company Inc., 1955). 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 retirementEdit

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 decorationsEdit

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 ;Badges

  Combat Infantryman Badge
  Master Parachutist Badge
Army Distinguished Service Medal with bronze oak leaf cluster
  Silver Star
Legion of Merit with three bronze oak leaf clusters
  Bronze Star
  Purple Heart
  Air Medal
Army Commendation Medal with bronze oak leaf cluster
Unit Award
Army Presidential Unit Citation with three bronze oak leaf clusters
  Army Meritorious Unit Commendation
Service Medals
American Defense Service Medal
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with four bronze campaign stars
  World War II Victory Medal
National Defense Service Medal with service star
  Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal
Vietnam Service Medal with two bronze campaign stars
Foreign Awards
Philippine Military Merit with Gold Star
  Vietnam Army Distinguished Service Order (2nd Class)
Philippine Defense Medal
Philippine Liberation Medal with two service stars
  Philippine Independence Medal
  Philippine Republic Presidential Unit Citation
  Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation
  Vietnam Campaign Medal

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f Harkins, P., 1956, Blackburn's Headhunters, London: Cassell & Co. LTD
  2. ^ Guardia, p. 155.
  3. ^ U.S. Army Register, 1969. pg. 33.
  4. ^ ROXANNE M. MERRITT Director, JFK Special Warfare Museum 910-432-4272/1533; DSN: 239 910-432-4062 fax;

External linksEdit