Marines weren’t going to let Lance Cpl. James Stogner’s heroism during a brutal Vietnam War battle go forgotten.
Left only with his Ka-Bar knife when his company was ambushed by a battalion-sized enemy force, Stogner fought back. He was determined to save any Marine he could after his company was surrounded and nearly defeated by North Vietnamese fighters in April 1967.
He was deployed with Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines. That was 52 years ago and, after years of pushing for his heroism to be recognized, Stogner was awarded the Navy Cross earlier this month. He was presented with the valor award, second only to the Medal of Honor, in a ceremony in northwest Montana.
“I did what I could do to help save more people,” Stogner said in a Marine Corps video about his actions that day. “All I had left was my Ka-Bar.”
The former lance corporal was with a machine-gun team at the time of the ambush. They took intense enemy fire from automatic weapons, grenades and mortars, according to Stogner’s award citation.
The lead platoon and company command group suffered devastating casualties, including the company commander. When Stogner’s machine-gun team leader was severely wounded, four enemy soldiers grabbed the wounded Marine and took him to a nearby tree line, where they began torturing him.
“At this point, Lance Cpl. Stogner showed his true mettle,” former Capt. Wallace Dixon, the company commander, said at Stogner’s award ceremony. “He could’ve crawled off in the dark and gotten away. But he did not.”
Despite his own painful wounds and with complete disregard for his own safety, Stogner pursued the enemy into the tree line to rescue his fellow Marine, his award citation states.
“After his service rifle malfunctioned, he used his [Ka-Bar] fighting knife to kill the enemy soldiers, then picked up his machine gunner and the machine gun, and carried them back to friendly lines,” the citation adds.
Those actions were never recognized until now, Dixon said during the ceremony. His section team leader had originally written his actions down on a food ration box in the field, Marine Corps Times reported. But the unit was still in combat, and the paperwork was “lost in the shuffle,” Stogner told the outlet.
When the unit gathered for a reunion 13 years ago, Marines realized Stogner had never received recognition. He was initially put up for the Medal of Honor, according to Marine Corps Times, but the nomination lacked the number of eye witnesses required for that award to be approved.
In an interview for a Marine Corps video, Stogner said he couldn’t paint a pretty picture about that deployment. You either adapted or you died, he said.
“You don’t leave nobody behind — you bring everybody out,” he said.
Stogner’s bold and decisive action saved the life of his fellow Marine, his Navy Cross citation states.
“And his undaunted courage and complete dedication to duty reflected great credit upon him and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service,” it concludes.
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