Donald Backlund was born on November 20, 1949, in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He entered the U.S. Air Force Academy in June 1967 and was commissioned a 2d Lt on June 9, 1971. Lt Backlund then received an Air Force Institute of Technology assignment to Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, to complete his Masters Degree in History from June 1971 to January 1972. He then attended Undergraduate Helicopter Training at Fort Rucker, Alabama, and was awarded his pilot wings in October 1972, followed by advanced helicopter training at the 1551st Flying Training Squadron at Hill AFB, Utah, from October 1972 to May 1973. Lt Backlund was assigned to the 40th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron at Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai AFB, Thailand, where he flew HH-53C Jolly Green Giant helicopters from May 1973 to June 1975. During this time, Capt Backlund participated in the SS Mayaguez incident, the evacuation of American personnel in Cambodia, and the evacuation of American personnel in South Vietnam, all in May 1975. He then served as an instructor pilot and flight examiner with the 1551st Flying Training Squadron at Hill AFB, Utah, and Kirtland AFB, New Mexico, from June 1975 to April 1978, followed by Undergraduate Pilot Training (fixed-wing) at Sheppard AFB, Texas, from April 1978 to April 1979. Capt Backlund attended A-10A Thunderbolt II conversion training from April 1979 until he was killed during an A-10 training flight at the Gila Bend Gunnery Range in Gila Bend, Arizona, on August 29, 1979. He was posthumously promoted to Major, and was buried at the Air Force Academy Cemetery on September 5, 1979. At the time of his death, he was getting ready for his next assignment as an A-10 pilot with the 91st Tactical Fighter Squadron at RAF Woodbridge, England. Maj Backlund was awarded the 1975 Jabara Award for Airmanship from the U.S. Air Force Academy, and the David C. Schilling Award for leadership and airmanship in 1976.
His Air Force Cross Citation reads:
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Section 8742, Title 10, United States Code, awards the Air Force Cross to First Lieutenant Donald R. Backlund for extraordinary heroism in military operations against an opposing armed force as a Helicopter Aircraft Commander on 15 May 1975. On that date, while engaged in the recovery of the SS Mayaguez and crew, Lieutenant Backlund, exhibiting superb airmanship, placed a contingent of United States Marines aboard the destroyer escort, USS Holt. He then successfully landed several United States Marines on Koh Tang Island despite intense ground fire. After escorting his wingman to the USS Coral Sea, Lieutenant Backlund then returned to Koh Tang Island and successfully recovered a group of United States Marines and airmen althrough encountering heavy, constant ground fire. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of an opposing armed force, Lieutenant Backlund reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.