As Gettysburg College joins with the rest of the nation in observing Veterans Day 2013, we would like to share the story of a former student who used the challenges he faced as motivation to become a high-achiever during his service in the United States Army. He served in the Vietnam War and was awarded the highest military honor for gallantry in action: the Medal of Honor.
According to family and friends, Stephen Doane ‘70 had a lifelong ambition of serving in the military. College, however, was a logical step for Doane, who had been a high-achieving high school student.
A member of his high school’s band and orchestra, he was also a member of the yearbook staff. Doane excelled at sports and was on the football team and wrestling team throughout high school. His passion for wrestling followed him into college as he made the wrestling team his freshman year.
In an article for The Salem News published in 2003, his father, Dr. David Doane, recalled that Stephen had always been a big kid. “He wrestled heavy-weight in college. He was 6-3, 210 pounds, without an ounce of fat.” Dr. Doane attributes his son’s superior size to how he did so well within the military, becoming both a Ranger and an officer before heading to Vietnam in January of 1969.
“He was a lot of fun,” his father continued. “I know I’m prejudiced, but he had no particular vices. He played football, he wrestled, he was in the band. He had an Austin-Healy car. He had a lot of girlfriends. He enjoyed life.”
Stephen only attended Gettysburg for one semester, but still made an impact on campus life. In addition to being on the wrestling team, he rushed Phi Kappa Psi but never completed his initiation. He found the academics challenging and ultimately decided to withdraw from the College at the end of his first semester.
In a letter to the Dean of College, Basil Crapster, dated April 3, 1969, Dr. Doane discussed the impact that his son’s withdraw from Gettysburg had on him. After Gettysburg, Stephen “entered the Army with a renewed sense of purpose and during the last two years grew up to be quite a man. His failure proved to be a stimulus to make him work hard and achieve well. During his brief career, he was proud of his accomplishments.”
Among the accomplishments of which he was most proud was the low casualty rate of the platoon that he commanded. In fact, the many letters he wrote home revealed that he always had the welfare of his men close at heart.
Before he deployed for Vietnam, he told his father that “his job as a young lieutenant was to take care of his men, and that is exactly what he did.” In fact, during the few months that he served in Vietnam, Stephen won seven medals for bravery - most of which were awarded for saving the men that he commanded - including a Bronze Star, a Silver Star, and a Purple Heart.
However, it is his Medal of Honor for which he is most renowned. His official citation states:
First Lt. Doane was serving as a platoon leader when his company, engaged in a tactical operation, abruptly contacted an enemy force concealed in protected bunkers and trenches. Three of the leading soldiers were pinned down by enemy crossfire. One was seriously wounded. After efforts of 1 platoon to rescue these men had failed, it became obvious that only a small group could successfully move close enough to destroy the enemy position and rescue or relieve the trapped soldiers, 1st Lt. Doane, although fully aware of the danger of such an action, crawled to the nearest enemy bunker and silenced it. He was wounded but continued to advance to a second enemy bunker. As he prepared to throw a grenade, he was again wounded. Undaunted, he deliberately pulled the pin on the grenade and lunged with it into the enemy bunker, destroying this final obstacle. 1st Lt. Doane's supreme act enabled his company to rescue the trapped men without further casualties. The extraordinary courage and selflessness displayed by this officer were an inspiration to his men and are in the highest traditions of the U.S. Army.
Standing true to the principles that were constantly near and dear to his heart, Doane sacrificed himself to save his men. All of his men, despite the wounds that they suffered, were saved that day thanks to his actions.
He was posthumously awarded a Medal of Honor by Richard Nixon on February 16, 1971.
In a letter to Doane's father just a few weeks after the Medal of Honor ceremony, Gettysburg College President C.A. Hanson wrote that “You are aware, of course, that your son was at Gettysburg for only a brief period of time. . . We cannot in honesty claim therefore that what he was or how he performed were the result of the influence of this College. Only you . . . can lay claim to that distinction. We can, however, join with the many who know of him and offer therefore, words of sincere praise and commendation – for you – and for him.”
Since then, Lt. Doane was posthumously inducted into Phi Kappa Psi, which then dedicated a plaque in his honor outside of Miller Hall.
This Veterans Day we would like to remember first Lieutenant Stephen Doane and his story, as well as the stories of countless other servicemen and women who face similar challenges everyday and continue to overcome them in order to serve our country.
These stories, like Doane’s, can be found in physical reminders across campus. In addition to the plaque outside of Miller Hall dedicated to Doane’s accomplishments and memory, the service and sacrifice of all veterans is recognized by the Veterans Memorial outside of Musselman Stadium.
Furthermore, the College was chosen as the location for a Medal of Honor town hall forum this past September, which was part of a larger Congressional Medal of Honor Society Convention being held in Gettysburg over a four-day period. As part of the forum, the College hosted four Medal of Honor recipients as its panelists and honored guests. Attendees had the opportunity to hear and ask questions about their stories, serving as yet another reminder of the incredible dedication of our service men and women around the world. The forum was covered by media, including a story on Fox News.
All of the information used for this story was found in Musselman Library’s Special Collections.
Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition that includes Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate and other distinguished scholars among its alumni. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.
Contact: Nikki Rhoads, senior assistant director of communications, 717.337.6803
Kasey Varner, communications and marketing intern
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