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This Day in History: Jimmy G. Stewart's Medal of Honor

On this Christmas day in 1942, Jimmy Stewart is born. No, not that Jimmy Stewart. True, both Stewarts served in the Army, but this Christmas baby would go on to earn a Medal of Honor in Vietnam.

 

Jimmy Goethel Stewart was born in West Virginia, but he was living in Ohio by the time he was a high school student. He enlisted in the Army after graduation and was soon dispatched to Germany.

 

He met his future wife while overseas. The young couple had two boys together, but Jimmy’s life as a father was cut short when he made a “daring one-man stand” in May 1966.

 

He lost himself, but he saved five of his friends.


Staff Sergeant Stewart was with his six-man squad on May 18 when it was suddenly attacked by a larger Vietnamese force.  Five of our boys were seriously wounded in the initial attack. Only Stewart was left standing.

 

He knew what he had to do.

 

The young staff sergeant was the only one left to defend his friends, and he did it. For four excruciating hours, he held the enemy at bay.  Even when he had an opportunity to flee during a lull in the attack, he refused to take advantage of it. His friends needed him—so he stayed.

 

Stewart’s Medal citation later described those long hours.  Stewart “fought like a man possessed,” his citation says, “emptying magazine after magazine at the determined, oncharging enemy.”

 

When the enemy threw grenades at him, he threw them back.  When his ammunition ran out, he crawled among his wounded squad members retrieving their ammunition so he could use it. He was “[f]ar past the normal point of exhaustion,” his citation concludes, “[but] he held his position for four harrowing hours and through three assaults.”

 

Finally, relief came in the form of American reinforcements—and an American counterattack. The new forces found and rescued the five wounded squad members: All five survived. Stewart was not so fortunate. He was found further ahead in a shallow hole, unresponsive, but with eight of the enemy lying dead nearby. There were signs that 15 others had been dragged away.

 

He had gone down fighting with his very last breath.

 

A little over a year later, Stewart’s widow received a Medal of Honor on his behalf.  Jimmy had “willingly laid down his life that his friends might live,” the Secretary of the Army told those assembled.

 

Yet it’s not the only tribute that Stewart has received.  Soon afterwards, a training area at Fort Benning (now Fort Moore) was dedicated to him.  Stewart Field was established near York Field (named for Medal recipient Sgt. Alvin York).

 

As a memorial plaque was unveiled during that dedication ceremony, the Fort Benning commander expressed his hope that it would inspire others.

 

“Many will pass this way,” he said, “many upon whose shoulders will fall the heavy responsibility of leadership in the eternal quest for universal peace and freedom.  If this memorial stone and plaque gives them strength and inspiration to face that responsibility with the same courage and determination as did Sgt. Stewart, then it will have served its purpose well.”

 

A job well done. Rest in peace, soldier.

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