Last Army soldier to win Medal of Honor in Vietnam War was from Moorhead

Did You Know That...In August of 1971, Doug Hagen's family and friends learned that he had been killed in Vietnam.To many people, 1st Lt. Hagen was just another of the 198 North Dakotans who lost their lives in combat during that war. What they d...
Loren D. Hagen Jr.

Did You Know That...

In August of 1971, Doug Hagen's family and friends learned that he had been killed in Vietnam.

To many people, 1st Lt. Hagen was just another of the 198 North Dakotans who lost their lives in combat during that war. What they did not learn, until much later, was that Hagen was the heroic officer of "a highly classified, multi-service U.S. special operations unit which conducted covert unconventional warfare operations" during the war.

For his heroic action during the dangerous mission that cost him his life, Hagen was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in 1974. Lt. Hagen was the last member of the U.S. Army to earn a Medal of Honor in the Vietnam War and the only recipient in Vietnam to have enlisted in North Dakota.

Loren Douglas Hagen was born Feb. 25, 1946, in Fargo, to Loren and Eunice (Harris) Hagen. Loren Jr. was primarily known by his middle name, Doug. The Hagens lived in Moorhead, where Loren Sr. was a salesman.

After Doug's freshman year of high school, the Hagens moved to Decatur, Ill., but following his high school graduation in 1964, Hagen returned to Fargo to enroll at North Dakota State University.

While pursuing his degree in engineering, industrial science and math, he also lettered in wrestling and worked part-time as a lifeguard in Moorhead. In 1968, he was credited with saving the life of a swimmer. This would not be the last time Hagen demonstrated heroism in saving a life.

Following graduation in the spring of 1969, Hagen went to the Fargo recruiting office and enlisted in the Army. He was sent to Fort Belvoir, Va., for basic training and to Fort Benning, Ga., for Officer Candidate School. He was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant.

In 1969, U.S. citizens were highly divided regarding support for our involvement in Vietnam. However, Hagen believed so sincerely in the U.S. war effort that he enlisted for Special Forces. He trained for 2½ years at Fort Bragg, N.C.,to became a Green Beret.

Hagen's training leader at Fort Bragg was Staff Sgt. Joe Cavaiani, a future Medal of Honor award honoree. "On our first patrol I knew he (Hagen) had what it takes to be a good team leader. In fact, I recommended he be given his own team sooner than normal. He was that good," Cavaiani said.

In December 1970, Hagen was sent to Vietnam, where he was named leader of a unit called Recon Team Kansas, which consisted of six Americans and eight Montagnard tribesmen. The Montagnards are the indigenous people of the central highlands of Vietnam.

Hagen's team operated in the demilitarized zone around Khesanh, a former military base that had been abandoned in 1968. The main function of his team was reconnaissance-to gather intelligence about the activities of the North Vietnamese Army.

In early August of 1971, Hagen received orders to capture an enemy soldier so that, through interrogation, information could be obtained as to why the North Vietnamese were amassing troops and tanks along the DMZ. On the evening of Aug. 6, Hagen and his team took a position on a hill overlooking the surrounding terrain, but what he did not realize was that the hill was surrounded by 2,000 enemy soldiers.

The next morning, while the Recon Team was securing its position, the North Vietnamese attacked. Facing a fierce assault by a superior-sized enemy force using heavy small arms, automatic weapons and rocket fire, Hagen immediately began returning small-arms fire upon the attackers and successfully led his team in repelling the first enemy onslaught.

Knowing that the North Vietnamese would soon strike again, Hagen exposed himself as he moved about the perimeter, rallying the members and resupplying the team with ammunition.

They attacked again with an even greater force, and as Hagen was calling on a radio for immediate air support, a bunker was hit by a rocket.

Rushing to come to the assistance of the soldiers in the shelled bunker, Hagen attracted intensified enemy fire and was killed. Although the battle lasted only 30 minutes before the recovery helicopters arrived to airlift the survivors, nine of fourteen members of his team were killed.

When Hagen's family was notified that Loren Douglas Hagen had died, many of the details involving his death were omitted because of the clandestine nature of his mission. His body was buried at the Arlington Cemetery.

Early in 1973, official negotiators for the U.S. and North Vietnam reached a cease-fire agreement, ending our involvement in South Vietnam. On Aug. 8, 1974, one day past the third anniversary of Hagen's death, he was awarded the Medal of Honor. On receiving the award from President Gerald Ford, Doug's father, Loren Hagen Sr. replied, "While I regret losing my son, I have the satisfaction of knowing he died doing exactly what he wanted to."

On April 21, 2015, in West Fargo, a new American Legion Post was established and named in honor of Loren D. Hagen Jr.

Three weeks later, on the U.S. Senate floor, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., paid tribute to 1st Lt. Hagen and the other North Dakotans killed in Vietnam.

“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your suggestions for columns, comments or corrections to the Eriksmoens at cjeriksmoen@cableone.net.