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This Day in History: LCpl Mike Stewart's bravery in Vietnam

On this day in 1967, a hero engages in an action that would earn him the second-highest military decoration for sailors and Marines: the Navy Cross. Many feel that Lance Corporal Michael “Mike” Stewart should have received a Medal of Honor instead.


This son of a Marine was perhaps destined to be a Marine?


Mike had long been determined to follow in his father’s steps—and that die was cast early. Indeed, Mike was born mere weeks after Melvin Stewart’s graduation from Yale University. As the first baby of a 1948 alum, Mike became the “Class Baby.”


He threw out the opening pitch at a Yale reunion when he was just four years old, but Mike wanted still more. He wanted to be a Marine. He even attempted to join while he was still underage.


“We were sitting at the picnic table in our backyard,” Magi (Stewart) Van Eps remembers, “when two Marines on either side of Mike were coming up the driveway. They were ‘returning’ him because he’d lied about his age.”


In the end, his parents helped him enlist when he was 17, although he would not travel to Vietnam until he’d turned 18.


“He was going to follow in dad’s footsteps,” his mother Betty explained. “He wanted to be just like Mel.”


Mike trained at Parris Island before traveling to Vietnam in January 1967. His heroic action came just a few months later, on May 13. Was his last letter home a bit prescient? “It’s going to be a bad one,” he wrote, “and I can see the casualty list now. We’re badly depleted, we’re very tired. It’s going to be terrible.”


Trouble came during a search and clear mission near the village of Phu An. Our Marines unexpectedly came under fire, and they scrambled for cover. Some, including Mike, made it to relative safety. Others were unfortunately wounded, lying in the open, exposed and vulnerable before a well-entrenched enemy.


“Realizing that these wounded Marines could not make it to safety on their own,” 1st Lt. Albert A. Fagan III later wrote, “LCpl Stewart, with full knowledge of the hazards involved and with total disregard for his personal safety, crawled more than fifty meters of the open field to reach his wounded and helpless comrades.”


The first man Mike found had been shot in the face, but Mike helped the wounded Marine, returning him to medical help. Then Mike turned towards danger, once again.


“He didn’t have to go back a second time,” Mike’s dad later said of these moments, “[but it’s] Semper Fi, you know, ‘Somebody’s shooting at my guy, my friend.’”


Mike soon found a second wounded Marine. He was helping him back when that Marine was struck—again. “LCpl Stewart refused to leave the man,” eyewitness Cpl. William Anderson marveled, “but continued to drag him, under intense fire.”


The move would cost Mike his life.


A third eyewitness, Joe Heater, later told Mike’s sister that he witnessed the moment Mike was shot. “Joe said that Mike looked him right in the eye,” Magi said, “as though he knew this was it and was passing the baton.”


The day Mike was killed happened to be the day before Mother’s Day. The dedicated son had somehow arranged, in advance, for a bouquet of roses to be delivered to his mom. She received the roses just before receiving news of her son’s fate.


In a show of respect, Mike’s body was brought home unusually fast because Yale University alum George H.W. Bush (also class of 1948) intervened to help.


“Michael Edward Stewart was a believer,” one local newspaper eulogized. “He believed in his family, he believed in his country and he believed in duty and honor. . . . thousands of miles away from home in the jungles of Vietnam, Michael gave his life for those beliefs.”


Well done, Marine. Rest in peace. 

Primary Sources:

  • Direct messages with Magi Van Eps (dated July 2023 through May 2024)

  • Don M. Cardle, Spin-Out (Culpeper Star-Exponent; May 18, 1967) (p. 7)

  • Hero Honored (Culpeper Star-Exponent; Feb. 6, 1968) (p. 1)

  • Local Man Killed in Vietnam Conflict (Star-Exponent; Jan. 22, 1968) (reprinted in April 1981 edition HERE)

  • Navy Cross Awarded Stewart, Who Gave Life Aiding Wounded Pal (Culpeper Star-Exponent; Feb 12, 1968) (p. 1)

  • Navy Cross citation (Michael Stewart; Vietnam)

  • News of Our Neighbors: Potter-Round Prairie (Atchison Daily Globe; Apr. 29, 1946) (p. 3)

  • They Shall Not Have Died in Vain (Blue Ridge Living; Nov. 15, 1992) (p. 1B)

  • Viet Ambush Kills Local Boy  (Culpeper Star-Exponent; May 16, 1967) (p. 1)  



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