Donald Lammers - 1st Lieutenant
- Air Medal with V (for valor) (Somalia)
- Purple Heart
Donald Gary Lammers was an unforgettable man, son, brother, husband, friend, and classmate. His sister, Diane Rasmussen, described Don as “the glue that held their family together” while growing up. His enthusiasm and always cheery smile left an impact on his classmates and friends as well. A few years ago, although they hadn’t been to a service in years, many of them felt compelled to attend a Memorial Day service in their hometown at which Don was being honored. The classmates shared fond memories and many stories of Don’s adventures throughout school with his sister, who was delighted to hear those tales.
Don was born March 29, 1944 to William and Myrtle Lammers. He grew up with two brothers, David and Dennis, and one sister, Diane. His father, William, also served in the United States Army in World War II, serving with the 473rd infantry in Italy.
As a nice, smart and funny guy, it was no surprise that Don became a favorite of his peers. He knew how to be happy and how to live freely without a shed of selfishness; however, Don never wanted thanks or recognition for being a good person—for him, it was an effortless part of his personality.
Don, who attended high school with Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, was active politically throughout his school years and participated in the student government senate. He participated in athletics, becoming the captain of the basketball team his senior year. Don graduated from Forest City High School in 1962 as Valedictorian of his class and made sure to return to Forest City every summer after graduation to keep in touch with his classmates.
Don went on to Iowa State University, receiving a scholarship for the winter and spring quarter. He enlisted in the Marine Corps in December 1965 before graduating from Iowa State in 1966 with a bachelor’s degree in English and speech. On August 12, 1967 he married Patricia Paul, who would become his widow only one year later.
Don was a writer, and often wrote letters to his family. In one letter to his sister in 1966, he wrote, “I joined the Marine Corps because I wanted to do my share.” Following officer’s candidate school, First Lieutenant Lammers was sent to Pensacola, Florida for flight training. He graduated from the Florida base in November 1967 and went to Vietnam as a helicopter pilot in March 1968. His tour officially began one month later on April 1.
August 24, 1968 was the day that took the helicopter pilot’s life. The crew was on an aerial resupply mission in support of the U.S. Marine Forces involved in Operation Mameluke Thrust in the Republic of Vietnam. Don was flying as co-pilot in the CH-46 helicopter. As the aircraft was departing a combat area landing zone, it received heavy damage from enemy small arms fire. The pilot attempted to land, but the aircraft became uncontrollable while in flight and crashed. An escort helicopter landed immediately to aid the survivors, but was unsuccessful. At 24 years old, Don died on impact.
Don won several air medals for aerial combat missions against the enemy, and his name is engraved on the veteran’s wall in the courtyard of the Winnebago County Courthouse in Forest City, Iowa. He was posthumously awarded an Air Medal for his achievement in aerial flight in the Republic of Vietnam from May 3 to August 16, 1968, and was also posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, presented to his wife.
Don’s intelligence and compassion left an impact on all who knew him. His sister, Diane, said that “when Don died, something within their family became lost.” He is someone who will forever be remembered by those who knew him. Don is buried at Corydon Cemetery in Corydon, Iowa.
A friend sent Don’s sister an excerpt from “Come Before Winter,” a sermon preached by Rev. John Davies at a church right here in Ames. The sermon resonated with Diane so much that she shared it with us, and we’d like to share it with you. It reads:
“There are things that will never be done unless they are done now. There are opportunities that come but once, and then they are gone and there is no recapturing them. There are people we love who will pass from this life before spring and we don’t even know who they will be: parents, children, classmates, neighbors, or the person sitting next to us right now. The winter will come and pass and the spring will transform the buds on the trees into summer’s leaves, but as the winter comes and goes, so do life’s opportunities and the lives of our dearest friends.”
The loss of Don and the other soldiers today teaches us that now never comes again. “Now is the time—today—to build a life that is worth living. Now is the time to show your love, appreciation and forgiveness to family and friends, not after they’re dead. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Do your best to ‘Come before Winter.’”