Nicholas Donelson was born on June 5, 1937, in Kansas City, Missouri. He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force on September 17, 1956, and was trained as a Radar Specialist. Donelson entered the Aviation Cadet Program on July 22, 1960, and was awarded his Navigator Wings and commissioned a 2d Lt on June 7, 1961. After attending Electronic Warfare Officer school and B-52 Stratofortress Combat Crew Training, he was assigned to the 72nd Bomb Squadron (redesignated the 441st Bomb Squadron in February 1963) at Mather AFB, California, from June 1962 to January 1965. Capt Donelson then completed Undergraduate Pilot Training and was awarded his Pilot Wings at Webb AFB, Texas, in January 1966. He then attended F-105 Thunderchief Combat Crew Training before being assigned to the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Yokota AB, Japan, from September 1966 to August 1969. During this time, Capt Donelson was deployed to Southeast Asia twice, flying 116 combat misssions with the 354th TFS at Takhli Royal Thai AFB, Thailand, and the 34th TFS at Korat Royal Thai AFB, Thailand. He attended Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell AFB, Alabama, from August 1969 to August 1970, and then served as an instructor with the 414th Fighter Weapons Squadron at Nellis AFB, Nevada, from August 1970 to August 1973. He attended Air War College from August 1973 to August 1974, and then served with 7th Air Force at Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai AFB, Thailand, until April 1975. During this time, he was the Chief of Fighter Operations and Planning and participated in planning the evacuations of Cambodia and South Vietnam in 1975, and the recovery of the S.S. Mayaguez's crew, also in 1975. Col Donelson was assigned to the Headquarters Tactical Air Command Joint Operations Planning and Training staff at Langley AFB, Virginia, from June to December 1975, followed by service as an Inspection Team Chief, also at HQ TAC, from January 1976 to May 1978. Col Donelson's final assignment was as Deputy Commander for Operations of the 405th Tactical Training Wing at Luke AFB, Arizona, where he served from June 1978 until his retirement on August 31, 1980.
His Air Force Cross Citation reads:
Captain Nicholas J. Donelson distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force as an F-105 pilot over North Vietnam on 23 August 1967. On that date, Captain Donelson was the mission commander for a force of thirty-two aircraft attacking a heavily defended railyard in the vicinity of Hanoi. Repeated attacks against his force by hostile aircraft destroyed two friendly aircraft, and the intense barrage of antiaircraft fire downed a third and severely damaged a fourth. In spite of this intense opposition, Captain Donelson, at great personal risk, led his force to the target and pressed the attack, inflicting severe damage to the railyard and destroying a large amount of rolling stock. Captain Donelson's firm leadership, timely decisions, and professional competence in the face of intense opposition resulted in the successful accomplishment of this extremely hazardous mission. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness, Captain Donelson reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.