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This Day in History: James L. Stone, Medal recipient

On this day in 1922, a hero is born. Colonel James L. Stone would be so humble about his service in Korea that his wife Mary didn’t realize she was marrying a Medal of Honor recipient. She learned about his Medal after their wedding.

“He was a humble person and didn’t talk about that part to me,” Mary explained. Stone had been a widower when they met; he married Mary after he retired from the Army in 1980.

Stone’s heroism had come many years earlier, of course. He was then a First Lieutenant serving near Sokkogae, Korea, with his platoon of about 50 soldiers. Our boys were defending an outpost on a hilltop during November 1951.

Chinese forces struck late on the night of the 21st.

“Artillery fire started coming in real heavy, real strong,” Stone described. “And we knew the enemy was coming up to get us.”

Hundreds of the enemy were assaulting Stone’s small group, but Stone was everywhere, doing what needed to be done. In one notable moment, a flamethrower was disabled and the soldier operating it was killed. Stone swiftly ran to the location, exposing himself to enemy fire, and repaired the flamethrower so it could be used again.

The Americans were standing their ground. “By the end of, I’d say, 1:30 or 2:00,” Stone said, “I thought we were beginning to hold. And then they turned loose another battalion against us.”

He estimates that the second battalion included up to 800 more enemy forces.

Soon, only one machine gun was left. Stone picked it up, carrying it from position to position so as to maximize the effectiveness of the American defense. He was exposed to enemy fire again and again. He was hit multiple times.

“We lost a lot of blood,” he said. “Almost everybody was not wounded once, he was wounded twice.” Too many didn’t survive. Eventually, Stone himself was hit in the neck.

“One of my men put a bandage around my neck,” he said. “I don’t know who he was to this day. I wish I knew who he was, and if he is still alive, he saved my life by putting that bandage around my neck, stopping the bleeding.”

Stone was badly wounded. He told the men who remained that he’d cover for them while they tried to retreat. “I would cover for ‘em because I wasn’t in a position to go with them,” he said. “But I would cover for ‘em and they could, perhaps, break out.”

Before long, a final Chinese attack would take the position. “When this final overwhelming assault swept over the platoon’s position,” his Medal citation describes, “his voice could still be heard faintly urging his men to carry on, until he lost consciousness.”

Stone awoke to find himself behind Chinese lines. He and six others had been taken prisoner. He was held as a POW for 22 long months before he was released.

His first sight of the American flag was imprinted on his memory, and he spoke often of it.

“The first thing I did was look up to that American flag,” he told an interviewer. “Oh, what a great relief, a great wonderful feeling to see that American flag again. That’s all you wanted to do was to sit up there and look at it.” In a separate interview, he described his first glimpse of the flag, noting that it was “like being reborn.”

When Stone first learned that he was to receive a Medal, he thought it was a mistake.

“We had a lot of men killed out there that night,” he concluded. “And more men killed and more men that got out alive. I think that I received the admiration and all the things that go with it because those men out there did the dirty work. They did what needed to be done out there. I just happened to be out there with them.”

Humble, as so many Medal recipients are.

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