True Warrior: First Sergeant Donald “Woody” Hamblen


1st Sergeant Donald Hamblen enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1950. After his initial training, he was assigned to D 2/5 in Korea. 1st Sgt Hamblen served with distinction as a Scout/Sniper. During an engagement with Chinese Communists forces, he was wounded in a mortar barrage. While being evacuated by a litter team, his group was ambushed by an element of Chinese infantrymen. Hamblen was again wounded, after being shot in the leg. Despite his wounds, Hamblen quickly made his way back to his unit and was promoted to squad leader.

During the next ten years, 1st Sergeant Hamblen served in numerous units before being assigned to 1st Force Reconnaissance Company as assistant platoon sergeant with the Pathfinder Platoon. At the time, 1st Force maintained a Pathfinder capability, allowing them to conduct deep reconnaissance missions, as well as the ability to conduct terminal guidance for drop and helicopter landing zones. 1st Sergeant Hamblen was a skilled parachutist. He received training in air delivery systems and tested a variety of parachutes. 1st Sgt Hamblen’s training included hunting and tracking in the Philippines, as well as attending the Navy’s Underwater Swimmer School in Key West, Florida.

On September 21, 1962 1st Sergeant Hamblen was severely injured during a static jump at Camp Pendleton, California. Strong winds forced him into high tension power lines causing third degree burns over much of 1st Sergeant Hamblen’s lower body. His wounds were so severe, that doctors were forced to amputate his left leg, below the knee. Equipped with several prosthetic legs and a burning desire to continue his service, 1st Sergeant Hamblen began his road to recovery. A disagreement existed between the Navy and Marine Corps. The Navy wished to know if Hamblen would ever be able to return to full duty. The Marines Corps wanted to know when he would return to full duty.

After his release from the hospital, 1st Sergeant Hamblen began a demanding physical training program which included running, swimming, and weight lifting. A little over half a year after his injury, 1st Sergeant Hamblen convinced 1st Marine Division leadership to allow him to take the Physical Readiness Test. The test included carrying a casualty, ruck marching, a twenty foot rope climb, and a boots and utilities run. 1st Sergeant Hamblen successfully completed the PRT, then famously removed his prosthetic leg and poured out the blood which had accumulated from the torn scar tissue. 1st Sergeant Hamblen had officially returned to 1st Force Recon.

1st Sergeant Hamblen went on to serve in Vietnam with the highly classified Studies and Observation Group, leading South Vietnamese forces in covert special operations in both North and South Vietnam. Hamblen was again wounded in 1966 during an engagement with the enemy, receiving shrapnel in his armpit and chest. 1st Sergeant Hamblen spent over two years in country and was eventually forced to leave Vietnam after newspaper reporters learned of his presence in country. 1st Sergeant Hamblen retuned to the United States in 1967, where he served in various training and joint billets until his retirement on March 1, 1970.

Share it on

One Comment

  1. Len Abram / May 9, 2018

    Do you know if Sgt Hamblen is still living in California? Any way I can reach him? A novel I wrote mentions him as a model for recovering from a severe injury and still return to active duty. I would like to let him know. I will acknowledge him in the preface when the book gets published, Thanks. Len

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

03XX Foundation Nonprofit Overview and Reviews on GreatNonprofits
Support Us