Since the Civil War, more than 39 million
men and women have answered the call to serve.
Of those, 3,440 served with such uncommon
valor and extraordinary courage that they
were presented with the Medal of Honor, the
nation's highest military award. In this collection,
more than one hundred of America's living
Medal of Honor recipients are honored. Their
tales of bravery are recounted by best-selling
author Peter Collier, and also feature portraits
by award-winning photographer Nick Del Calzo.
James L. Stone
First Lieutenant, U.S. Army Company E
8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division
By Peter Collier
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.
A month later, on October 27, 1953, he was at the White House. President
Dwight Eisenhower presented the medal to Stone and to six others.
Then, looking around at the servicemen whose extraordinary exploits
he had just discussed, Ike quipped to the audience, "I feel perfectly
safe up here."