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Donald Singleton’s somber anniversary
RH 2020 MLK Donald Singleton
Donald Singleton was grand marshal of the 2020 Martin Luther King Jr. Parade in Richmond Hill. - photo by Special to the News

Monday marked 54 years since Donald Singleton earned his purple heart.

It was like it happened yesterday, he said.

Singleton, a former airborne trooper with the 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, was on patrol in the Quang Ngai province on May 18, 1967. It was night.

“We were walking down a trail trying to find the body of one of our guys earlier that day,” he said. “We’d waited until night to slip in, find his body and slip out, but they were their waiting us.”

A grenade was thrown. One of Singleton’s fellow soldiers, Specialist 4th Class Dale Eugene Wayrynen, threw himself on the grenade. Wayrynen was killed. Singleton was hit by shrapnel from the grenade and wounded in his legs and butt and was medevaced out by helicopter, the only living soul on board the chopper apart from the crew.

Wayrynen was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest military decoration the United States bestows. Singleton got a purple heart and was sent to the rear for a while.

Singleton, who keeps in touch with Wayrynen’s family, eventually came home to Richmond Hill and got on with his life. He had a long and successful career as a railroad engineer while raising a family and being active in the community.

Long a fixture at local veterans parades and events, Singleton is retired, and he makes a mean mustard- based Daniel Siding barbecue sauce that goes on more than just barbecue.

He gardens and tinkers with old vehicles and spends time communing with nature on his plot of land off Carter Town Road while he tries to make sense of what happened to him as a 22-year-old.

That night 54 years ago this week doesn’t go away, Singleton said.

“It’s there, it’s in the back of my neck,” he said. “I see it all the time. I just thank the Lord he see’s fit to keep me above ground. But it’s still going on.”

And the soldier the 101st troopers went to recover that May night in 1967?

“He’s still missing,” Singleton said.

Read our 2018 Those Who Served feature on Donald Singleton.

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