Army Capt. Loren Douglas Hagen joined the Green Berets during the Vietnam War so he could find a childhood friend who’d never returned from deployment. Hagen didn’t come home, either, but the extraordinary heroism he displayed while leading his men during a harrowing mission earned him a posthumous Medal of Honor.
Hagen was born on Feb. 25, 1946, to Loren and Eunice Hagen, and went by his middle name, Doug. For much of his childhood, he and his two younger brothers lived in Moorhead, Minnesota, on the border with Fargo, North Dakota, until their parents moved them to Decatur, Illinois. There, Hagen excelled at MacArthur High School, where he was an honor student and the president of the student council his senior year. He was also an Eagle Scout.
After high school, Hagen moved back to the Fargo area to attend North Dakota State University. He earned an engineering degree in 1968 before enlisting in the Army when the Vietnam War was still escalating.
“His goal was to find his best friend from high school, who had gone missing in action,” said Sen. Bill Nelson in May 2015 during congressional testimony. That friend was Alan Boyer, who had disappeared during a mission in Vietnam on March 28, 1968.
Joining the Special Forces
Hagen was commissioned as an officer before training to join the Special Forces. He eventually served in the same unit Boyer had been in, according to a 2016 Decatur Herald and Review article. They were both part of the Military Assistance Command Vietnam Studies and Observations Group, which often conducted dangerous, classified missions in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
According to a 1971 article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Hagen, then a first lieutenant, was severely wounded in June 1971 in Vietnam and was recommended for the Silver Star at that time. He spent a few weeks in recovery before returning to the field.
Two weeks into that return, Hagen was appointed as the leader of a team consisting of six other U.S. special operators and nine indigenous soldiers called Montagnards. Known as Recon Team Kansas, they were sent to operate deep in enemy-held territory on the Laotian border.
According to Army documents, on the afternoon of Aug. 6, 1971, Recon Team Kansas was inserted into mountainous, rocky enemy terrain to do some reconnaissance and potentially rescue prisoners of war. After they set up defensive perimeters around the few bunkers near the hilltop, the team hunkered down for the night, occasionally detected enemy movement that they fired upon as needed.
Around 6 a.m. the next day, they were fiercely attacked by a large enemy force that was employing small-arms, automatic weapons and mortar and rocket fire against them.
Leading Through Peril
Hagen quickly started returning fire and successfully led his team to repel the first attempted onslaught. They then spread out to get into better defensive positions before the enemy tried a second time to take them out.
On several occasions, Hagen exposed himself to enemy fire as he moved around the perimeter to rally the team, direct their fire and resupply them with fresh ammo, all while using his own gun and hand grenades to help push the enemy back. His Medal of Honor citation said that those courageous actions and leadership abilities were a great source of inspiration for his small team to continue the fight.
About an hour after the second wave of fighting started, Hagen saw an enemy rocket directly hit one of the team’s bunkers, which Sgt. Bruce A. Berg was known to be in. Hagen knew that the enemy had totally overrun the area where that bunker was, but he didn’t care. He directed his assistant team leader to assume command before moving toward the bunker anyway, hoping to find Berg and anyone else who may have been inside.
Hagen ignored his own safety and crawled through enemy fire, returning volleys with his own gun until he was hit and killed.
Two other Americans died that day — Berg and fellow Green Beret SSgt. Oran L. Bingham — along with six of the Montagnard commandos. The remaining men on the team were all wounded. Luckily, they were able to stave off the attack until backup and evacuation helicopters came.
Honor After Death
One of Hagen’s teammates, Sgt. Tony Anderson, discussed the ordeal in the book “SOG: The Secret Wars of America’s Commandos in Vietnam,” by retired Army Maj. John L. Plaster. Anderson attributed their survival to Hagen.
“It’s amazing that any of us came through it with the amount of incoming that we were getting,” Andersen said. “[Hagen] epitomized what a Special Forces officer should be — attentive to detail, a lot of rehearsals, followed through on things. … We were ready. I think that was probably the only thing that kept us from being totally overrun. Everybody was alert and knew what was happening.”
According to Plaster’s book, the Air Force said Hagen’s team ended up killing 185 North Vietnamese soldiers during the fight and likely wounded twice as many.
A week after Hagen’s death, he was posthumously promoted to captain. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
The Medal of Honor was presented to Hagen’s family by Vice President Gerald R. Ford on Aug. 8, 1974, the day before Ford was inaugurated as president. Five other fallen Vietnam War soldiers received the medal that day: Maj. William Adams, Staff Sgt. Glenn English Jr., Staff Sgt. Robert Murray, Cpl. Frank Fratellenico and Spc. 4 Larry G. Dahl.
Hagen’s two hometowns have not forgotten him. In 2015, American Legion Post 308 in West Fargo was named in his honor. At his former high school in Decatur, a Doug Hagen Scholarship for students was created in his name.
Coming Full Circle
While he was alive, Hagen never did find out what happened to Boyer, his high school friend. It took another 45 years for those details to finally be uncovered.
In 2016, Boyer’s sister, Judi Boyer-Bouchard, told the Decatur Herald and Review that she’d gotten a phone call from the Army saying that her brother’s remains had been identified. The article said Boyer’s body had been in the possession of remains traders in Laos before ending up with a peace activist. That activist turned them over to the U.S. government, which subsequently did DNA testing to confirm that they were Boyer.
Boyer now rests in Arlington National Cemetery, five rows in front of Hagen, the friend who went to Vietnam to find him so long ago.
This article is part of a weekly series called “Medal of Honor Monday,” in which we highlight one of the more than 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have earned the U.S. military’s highest medal for valor.
Source: Department of Defense