On November 21, 1951, Lieutenant James Stone, a month away from his twenty-ninth birthday, was trying to keep warm in a desolate hilltop outpost above the Imjin River near Sokkogae. That morning his platoon, part of the 1st Cavalry, had relieved another American unit at an outpost facing the Chinese Communist forces on an opposing hill. During the day, the enemy fired white phosphorus shells at the Americans. Stone knew that this meant they were marking his position for an artillery barrage and probable assault later on.
Around 9:00 p.m., the Chinese unleashed a ferocious artillery and mortar attack. After the barrage ended, Stone radioed U.S. gunners to send up flares. When they burst high in the sky and illuminated the nightscape, he could see hundreds of enemy troops—roughly a battalion—scrambling up the hill to attack. Within minutes, the Chinese were nearly on top of Stone's platoon. The Americans repelled this assault and five others over the next three hours.
Shortly after midnight, the Chinese added another battalion to the assault. The forty-eight U.S. troops now faced perhaps eight hundred of the enemy. During the fighting, Stone continued to call in artillery support; moving calmly among his men, he encouraged them to hold fast and make every shot count. He climbed up on the sandbagged trenches to direct the defense, exposing himself to enemy fire. When a flamethrower crucial to the U.S. defense malfunctioned and its operator was killed, Stone ran to the position, pulled the gas tanks off the dead man, repaired the flamethrower by flare light, and handed the weapon off to another operator.
The Chinese used bangalore torpedoes to destroy the wires and fortifications marking the American platoon's perimeter, then entered the U.S. trench lines. Stone joined his men in a hand-to-hand fight, at times using his rifle as a club or knifing the enemy with his bayonet. At one point, he picked up the platoon's one functioning machine gun and carried it from place to place to train fire on the Chinese. Already wounded twice, he was then hit in the neck. One of his men—Stone didn't see who it was—saved his life by immediately wrapping a bandage around his neck to stop the flow of blood.
Realizing that his dwindling force (twenty-four of his men had been killed, he later learned) would be annihilated, Stone gathered his remaining men together and told those who were still mobile to try to make it back to the company. He said he would stay behind with the badly wounded to cover their retreat. Those who escaped could hear him continuing the fight as they left. Just before dawn, Stone and six other survivors were overwhelmed. The next day, when U.S. forces retook the hill, they counted the bodies of 545 enemy dead.
Stone, unconscious when he was taken prisoner by the Chinese, was carried on a stretcher to a command post behind enemy lines and interrogated. He was then taken to a prison camp on the Yalu River, where he spent the next twenty-two months. On September 3, 1953, he was repatriated in a prisoner exchange. Immediately mobbed by reporters and cameramen asking him how it felt to have won the Medal of Honor, Stone, who had no knowledge of his award, was speechless.