Donald Thomas Steinbrunner

United States Air Force
05 April 1932 - 20 July 1967
Bellingham, Washington
Panel 23E Line 096



USAF Navigator/Bombardier

DFC, Purple Heart, Air Medal, National Defense, Vietnam Service, Vietnam Campaign

The database page for Donald Thomas Steinbrunner

2 Oct 2004

Don Steinbrunner, an end from Washington State, played offensive tackle in 1953 for the Cleveland Browns.

Steinbrunner, who joined the ROTC while in college, was called to active duty following his rookie season with the Browns. Upon completion of a two-year tour of duty as an Air Force navigator, the Bellingham, Washington native considered returning to the Browns, but instead opted to pursue a military career. In 1966, Steinbrunner was called to serve in Vietnam. Not long after his arrival, he was shot in the knee during an aerial mission. Due to his injury, he was offered an opportunity to accept a less dangerous assignment, but declined, preferring to return to his unit. According to his family, the 35-year-old Steinbrunner reasoned that he was better suited to serve his country than many of the younger, less seasoned soldiers he'd observed. It was a decision that cost him his life. On July 20, 1967, Steinbrunner's plane was shot down over Kontum, South Vietnam. There were no survivors.

Posthumously, Don Steinbrunner was awarded the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Flying Cross. His citation read in part

"Disregarding the hazards of flying the difficult target terrain and the opposition presented by hostile ground forces, he led the formation through one attack and returned to make a second attack. The outstanding heroism and selfless devotion to duty displayed by Major Steinbrunner reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force."

With Lt. Bob Kalsu, Steinbrunner was one of only two former professional football players to die in Viet Nam, Kalsu from the American Football League, and Steinbrunner from the National Football League.

From a footbal archivist,
Angelo F. Coniglio

01 Oct 2004

Donald Steinbrunner in high school, left; at Washington State (1953), right.

Steinbrunner shot down in Vietnam - Maj. Donald T. Steinbrunner, 35, one of Whatcom County's all-time athletic greats and a former assistant football coach at the Air Force Academy, was killed in Vietnam Thursday, the 16th Northwest man to die by enemy action. Major Steinbrunner was a navigator aboard a C-123 engaged in defoliation action when his plane was shot down. The Air Force said a forward air controller reportedly saw the crash near Pleiku Air Base. There was suspected light ground fire in that area. The Whatcom county man had been on duty in Vietnam since last December and was scheduled to return to the states in December and was looking forward to a return to coaching duty at the Air Force Academy, where he spent five years as an assistant coach and recruiter. Immediate survivors include the widow, Meredyth and three children in Colorado Springs, Colorado.; his mother Mrs. Tom Steinbrunner, of Wickersham, and a sister, Mrs. Lee Otten, of Lake Whatcom Boulevard. Steinbrunner was graduated from Mount Baker high school in 1949. As a prep athlete he won all state honors in football and basketball. He continued his athletic career at Washington State College, where he captained the football and basketball teams, and had a fling in professional football with the Cleveland Browns. A knee injury cut short his football days and he then elected a career in the Air Force.

The Bellingham Herald, Bellingham WA, Friday, 21 July, 1967

Courtesy of
Darilee Bednar

Faces from the Wall

A Note from The Virtual Wall

On 20 July 1967 the 12th Air Commando Squadron lost its second aircraft, UC-123B tail number 54-0630, while conducting a RANCH HAND defoliation mission near Gia Vuc, some 30 miles southwest of Quang Ngai. The aircraft was making a spray run at 150 feet when it was hit by a hail of small arms fire, crashed, and burned. All five crewmen were killed:
  • Major Allan J. Stearns, Girard, PA, pilot
  • LtCol Everett E. Foster, Beacon, NY, copilot
  • Major Donald T. Steinbrunner, Bellingham, WA, navigator
  • SSgt Irvin G. Weyandt, Claysburg, PA, loadmaster
  • Sgt Le Tan Bo, RVN Air Force, observer

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Jim Schueckler, former CW2, US Army
Ken Davis, Commander, United States Navy (Ret)
Channing Prothro, former CAP Marine
Last updated 08/10/2009