Loren Douglas Hagen
Wednesday, August 7, 2013
Even in retrospect, the sad havoc of Vietnam War history often remains unclear. And the story of Loren Douglas Hagen, who died on a bloodied hilltop in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on this date in 1971, was a puzzling mystery at that time.
Loren Douglas Hagen, born in Fargo in 1946, was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Loren H. Hagen. He later graduated from NDSU’s School of Engineering, and was in the Army ROTC program.
Commissioned as an officer, Hagen became a Green Beret in the Army Special Forces, the ruggedly-trained, elite soldiers who fought unconventionally in Vietnam. Lieutenant Hagen commanded a small unit sent to gather intelligence about North Vietnamese Army activities in the DMZ near Khe Sanh in August, 1971. The Khe Sanh Marine base had been abandoned three years earlier after a long siege.
Hagen’s orders came from the top-secret Studies and Observation Group. His unit, called Recon Team Kansas, consisted of only 6 Americans and 8 Montagnard tribesmen. Hagen’s classified mission was to capture an enemy soldier, who would give information about their plans.
Hagen’s unit deployed conspicuously on a hilltop at night. Half of them would exit via helicopter the next morning, but the other half would remain – to capture an enemy soldier from amongst those who investigated the commotion. Another copter would provide evacuation. Unfortunately, Hagen’s team landed near a newly-installed fuel pipeline – to be used for future enemy tank-assaults – and smack-dab in the middle of 2,000 enemy troops.
Hagen’s team dug in, fortifying three bunkers, totally surrounded. The North Vietnamese attacked, and Hagen radioed for massive air support. When a rocket-blast blew up one bunker, Lieutenant Hagen immediately advanced there to help his men. Scrambling through heavy rocket, grenade and small-arms fire, Hagen was fatally wounded in the first minutes of the half-hour battle.
Nine of the 14 men in Recon Team Kansas died that day. American firepower allowed the others to barely get out, carrying the dead. Incomplete news of Hagen’s death came to Fargo that week.
The military awarded Hagen the Medal of Honor, posthumously, in 1974. The classified full-story of his fatal mission was only revealed in the 1990s, when researchers released information about the “Black Ops” of the clandestine Vietnam Studies and Observation Group.
Loren Douglas Hagen was age 25 when he died. His body lies buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, History Department, MSU Moorhead, with research by Blye Daluge.
Sources: “One F-M Man Dies in Viet,” Fargo Forum, August 11, 1971, p. 1.
“F-M Man Posthumously Awarded Honor Medal,” Fargo Forum, August 10, 1974, p. 15.
John L. Plaster, “The Last Stand of Recon Team Kansas,” VFW Magazine, vol. 84, no. 11, August 1997, p. 38+.
Robert M. Gillespie, Black Ops, Vietnam: An Operational History of MACVSOG (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2011), p. 230-231.
Richard K. Kolb and Kelly Von Lunen, “Vietnam, 1971: A GI’s Combat Chronology,” VFW Magazine, June/July 2011,
http://digitaledition.qwinc.com/display_article.php?id=725674, accessed on July 19, 2013.
“Loren Douglas Hagen,” Arlington National Cemetery Website, http://arlingtoncemetery.net/ldhagen.htm, accessed on December 10, 2012.