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A HERO'S HONOR

Noxon resident awarded Navy Cross

 

April 11, 2019

Courtesy Photo

HONORING THE BRAVE – James Stogner (left) received the military's second highest honor, the Navy Cross, from Retired Lieutenant General Frank Libutti, for showing bravery, valor and honor for his battalion during Vietnam 52 years ago. After suffering massive injuries, Stogner continued to fight, saving the lives of his fellow Marines.

by Shana Neesvig

Some stories are worth sharing over, and over, and over again. In most cases, these stories are based around a single character, perhaps a hero who saved many lives.

Last Friday, 52 years to the date, Noxon resident and former Marine James Stogner received the recognition he deserves and has earned legendary status.

On April 5, 2019, Stogner was awarded the military's second highest honor, the Navy Cross. Retired Lieutenant General Frank Libutti pinned the Cross on Stogner during a special ceremony at Polson's Veterans of Foreign Wars. "Most of the people are dead who got it," Stogner shared of the medal only awarded to combat-related affairs.

Stogner was a young man of 17 years in 1965 when he joined the U.S. Marines, following the military footsteps of his father, uncles and brother. It was Stogner's birthday when he arrived at Parris Island, South Carolina, and registered for a 13-week boot camp stint. "The Army says, 'Be All You Can Be!' so I joined the Marines," Stogner said with a light heart, claiming that "you join other military branches, but you become a Marine."

Stogner was ordered to battle in Vietnam during July 1967, at the young age of 18 years.

On the evening of April 5, 1967, Lance Cpl. Stogner was an ammunition humper serving Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines fighting the North Vietnamese Army (NVA). According to the official Summary of Action, "Charlie Company had been moved into a position to support an otter re-supply run that had been ambushed."

"The whole thing lasted three to five hours I guess," Stogner said of the escalating incident earning his battalion the nickname "The Walking Dead." "But I have to say it seemed like forever."

Two platoons were ordered to move through a hedgerow toward a village where NVA were suspected of hiding, according to the summary. A third platoon was left behind to provide support and aid the casualties. Stogner was assigned ammo support man for Corporal Elijah Fobbs, who was the machine gunner.

As darkness of the evening set in, illumination was requested. Stogner, experienced in sound differences between artillery, kneeled to reduce his size in the tree-lined area, realizing the danger surrounding him. "When the lights came on, an automatic burst from his rifle took out three NVA soldiers directly in front of him and at very close range," reads the Summary of Action.

Stogner received return fire and his rifle was struck at the receiver destroying it. The firearm slammed into his face, breaking his nose, but fortunately served as a barrier protection from two bullets in the magazine, Stogner shared. The command group moved toward the tree line, where NVA was located as well, and were immediately shot down.

The platoon Stogner was assigned to was "cut to pieces," according to the summary, which also indicates that the NVA was only a meager 15 yards away, tucked in trenches, waiting to ambush. Nearly all of Stogner's platoon was killed or wounded. The second platoon had one survivor – the radioman – and the company commander perished.

While the NVA began stripping American Marines of their gear while lying dead and killing the wounded, Stogner could have slipped off into the darkness and escaped. His mentality that "Marines are brothers, we are forged in the same fire" made him persist forward and do what had to be done.

An NVA solider approached the area where Stogner was inconspicuously hiding with his only operable weapon, a Ka-Bar knife. Using the only means he had, Stogner tripped the soldier and killed him. In all, Stogner claimed three lives using his Ka-Bar while crawling around remaining unnoticed.

"By doing this, he (Stogner) saved more lives of the wounded Marines who would have been the next in line to be shot if he had not been there," reads the Summary of Action.

"You don't think, you just react," Stogner shared his thoughts of the moment, which he continues to deal with daily. "I know that when you shoot someone it's totally different. With a knife it is close and personal."

As time progressed, NVA soldiers failed to return to their base, causing them to begin a hand grenade barrage. Stogner was hit in the head with shrapnel and suffered a concussion. With the intensity of the barrage, all was silent with the Marines.

Stogner, who was severely injured, laid and listened intently. He could hear something.

"I wasn't going to let him die," Stogner shared. "I could hear my gunner dying and I was not going to let him die!"

Corporal Fobbs was captured and drug into enemy territory by the NVA. Stogner, once again crawling using darkness and vegetation to shield himself, made his way to Fobbs, who was screaming in agony. Stogner witnessed four NVA soldiers kicking and poking sticks into Fobbs's wounds.

One NVA soldier made the mistake of passing Stogner, who was in hiding. From behind, Stogner quietly attacked the soldier using his Ka-Bar. All was silent. Another NVA solider passed Stogner and met the same demise.

The two remaining NVA continued torturing Fobbs when "L/CPL Stogner screamed as he charged, surprising the captors. With a hard thrust of his knife to the chest of one man, he was able to grab the second soldier. He wrestled with him on the ground and did away with him," replayed the report.

Fobbs was carried over Stogner's shoulder through continued grenade explosions and firearm rounds until they reached a safe zone.

Twenty-one Marines died that night and more than 30 were wounded, according to records. Some of the wounded, who were medevacked, would have perished had it not been for Stogner's heroism.

Written recommendations for Stogner's valor had been lost on the battlefield as explosives and continued casualties occurred. The next ranking officer, who carried the original recommendation, stepped on a landmine, "sealing the fate of the forgotten recommendation," reports the Summary of Action.

Courtesy Photo

Stogner was 19 when he returned from Vietnam. He was 6 feet, 3 inches tall and weighed 105 pounds.

It took 30 years for Fobbs to formally be recognized as having been captured by NVA. He received the Prisoner Medal of Honor on July 5, 1997. And now, 52 years later, due to lack of having two witnesses (it took nine years to waive the two-eyewitness rule as Fobbs was the only surviving witness to Stogner's heroic act) and lost recommendations, Stogner received the Navy Cross honoring his bravery.

"I lost a lot of good friends that night, but I would go back and do it all over again," Stronger said a few days ago. "It does people good to go into the military. It teaches self-worth and gives them goals to better their life."

All survivors of Charlie Company 1/9, The Walking Dead, attended the ceremony in Polson to honor Stogner, a former 18-year-old ammo humper with valiant fearlessness.

 

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