Ken E. Stumpf - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Ken E. Stumpf

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Early in 1967, the Communists' control of Vietnam's Quang Ngai Province was so complete that many villagers had never seen any troops other than those of the Vietcong. The U.S. command decided to try to break this stranglehold on the area through a series of company-size search-and-destroy missions.

On April 25, Ken Stumpf was on one of these missions. A U.S. helicopter gunship orbiting the area had killed one Vietcong fighter in one of the small villages and wounded another. Around noon, Specialist Fourth Class Stumpf was ordered to investigate with his six-man squad while another squad, including the platoon's radio operator, followed behind.

Stumpf was on point about fifty feet ahead of his men when he came to a chest-high dry irrigation ditch. He stopped, unable to see much ahead because of a maze of bamboo and palm trees, and ordered his men to wait while he returned for the field radio and to report to his captain. He had gone about fifty yards when he heard gunfire. Running back, he found that three of his men had gone to check out the area beyond the ditch and been hit by a Vietcong machine gun.

Stumpf took cover with the remaining three men, and another squad joined them. The Vietcong began to pour out a torrent of fire, and for the next hour the GIs shot blindly into the heavy foliage. When three or four enemy soldiers camouflaged by clumps of grass on their uniforms suddenly attempted to flank their position, the Americans shot them.

In a momentary lull in the battle, Stumpf heard the cries of the three men who had gotten cut off from his squad. With the other GIs laying down covering fire, he charged forward and stumbled onto them in heavy undergrowth. He put the most seriously wounded man on his back and carried him to the ditch, blue tracer bullets streaking past them. Then he returned for another wounded soldier and brought him out. Exhausted, he lay panting on the ground for several moments, then went back one more time and carried out the third GI.

At about two in the afternoon, American artillery blew away the thick vegetation, and it became clear that the Vietcong were concealed in a series of bunkers. Stumpf, who always carried a sandbag full of grenades, ran forward with one of his men to assault the VC positions. He destroyed the first bunker. As they approached the second, four enemy soldiers suddenly appeared; Stumpf opened fire, and the VC fell. So did Stumpf's backup, killed by a bullet in the chest. One more bunker remained. Armed with extra grenades, Stumpf ran to it over open ground and threw a grenade through the aperture. When the VC managed to throw it back out, Stumpf hit the ground in a fetal curl as it exploded; then he stood, pulled the pins on two more grenades, held them for an extra second, and tossed them in, this time destroying the gun emplacement.

Weeks after the battle, Stumpf was waiting in a chow line when he overheard a couple of GIs whispering that he was being recommended for a casket with a metal handle. He soon discovered, though, that it was the Medal of Honor he was being recommended for. It was awarded to him by President Lyndon Johnson on September 19, 1968.