BY DUANE A. VACHON, PH.D. Kenneth Edward Stumpf is a retired United States Army soldier and a recipient of the United States military’s highest decoration—the Medal of Honor—for his actions in the Vietnam War. He was born in 1944.
Stumpf, who was a very keen baseball player, thought there might be a chance that one day he would play baseball professionally. His hometown of Menasha, Wisconsin had a minor league team he played on, and he was aware that a professional scout had seen his team play on more than one occasion.
Stumpf, who was living at home, had been working the graveyard shift and was getting ready to go to bed when tongue in cheek he said to his mother to wake him up if any draft letters came for him. A couple of hours into his sleep, his mom woke him up, she was very excited, a draft letter had arrived. Unfortunately it was not from a major league baseball team. The draft letter was from the local Selective Service Board ordering Stumpf to report for induction into the U.S. Army.
Stumpf reported to the selective service office in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where he was drafted into the U.S. Army. This period was a time when the buildup in Vietnam was at its height. It was rumored that if you could fog a mirror you were likely to find yourself in the U.S. Army. By April 25, 1967, Stumpf found himself in Vietnam serving as a Specialist Four in Company C, 1st Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division. On that day, near Duc Pho in the Republic of Vietnam, Stumpf rescued three wounded comrades despite heavy fire and single-handedly disabled an enemy bunker. He was subsequently promoted to Staff Sergeant and awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during the battle.
In 1967, in an effort to break the communists’ hold on the region, a division-size force moved into southern I Corps. As part of this operation, a series of company-size, search-and-destroy operations were launched.
On 24 April, Charlie Company began humping to the northwest. The three villages it passed through were deserted, a bad sign. Next morning, Captain Joseph Caudillo received orders to sweep southeast toward the village of Pho Nghia. The battalion’s intelligence officer warned that a company from the 2nd VC Regiment probably was somewhere in the village’s six hamlets training a local guerilla force.
At about 1000 hours the platoons moved cautiously, anticipating contact. Along the way they came across a number of enemy bunkers and trenches, all recently occupied. About this time, crewmen on a Huey gunship reconning an area about 300 yards outside the Bich Chieu hamlet spotted two VC troops in the open. The gunship immediately opened fire, killing one instantly. The other ducked into a nearby bunker.
The Huey’s pilot radioed Caudillo, who decided to have someone check out the bunker. Third Platoon was the closest.
Sergeant 1st Class Garfield Wells was the acting leader of 3rd Platoon. After speaking with Caudillo, he ordered Specialist 4 Kenneth Stumpf to take his squad and check out the enemy bunker.
Stumpf, 20, had been in country seven months, but had already earned a reputation for bravery. Stumpf gathered his six-man squad and briefed them on the mission. There was almost certainly trouble ahead, he said, and for that reason he wanted the best man in the squad on point: himself. No one objected.
At about 1115 the squad started down the trail to Bich Chieu. Stumpf’s squad, unbelievable as it might seem, had no radio. Wells was unaware of this until Stumpf’s squad was 15 minutes down the trail. Realizing that if Stumpf ran into trouble he would need a radio, Wells ordered another squad leader, Sgt. John Madonich, to double-time down the trail with an extra field radio.
Like his friend Stumpf, Madonich had a reputation for being fearless. Since only two other men in his squad were experienced, M60 machine gunner Larry Wolfe and grenadier Jim Hufstetler, Madonich took point. They moved out. And as they say, “the rest is history.”
The Medal of Honor Citation below tells some of the story.
Medal of Honor Citation
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. SSG Stumpf distinguished himself while serving as a squad leader of the 3d Platoon, Company C, on a search and destroy mission. As SSG Stumpf’s company approached a village, it encountered a North Vietnamese rifle company occupying a well fortified bunker complex. During the initial contact, 3 men from his squad fell wounded in front of a hostile machinegun emplacement. The enemy’s heavy volume of fire prevented the unit from moving to the aid of the injured men, but SSG Stumpf left his secure position in a deep trench and ran through the barrage of incoming rounds to reach his wounded comrades. He picked up 1 of the men and carried him back to the safety of the trench. Twice more SSG Stumpf dashed forward while the enemy turned automatic weapons and machineguns upon him, yet he managed to rescue the remaining 2 wounded squad members. He then organized his squad and led an assault against several enemy bunkers from which continuously heavy fire was being received. He and his squad successfully eliminated 2 of the bunker positions, but one to the front of the advancing platoon remained a serious threat. Arming himself with extra hand grenades, SSG Stumpf ran over open ground, through a volley of fire directed at him by a determined enemy, toward the machinegun position. As he reached the bunker, he threw a hand grenade through the aperture. It was immediately returned by the occupants, forcing SSG Stumpf to take cover. Undaunted, he pulled the pins on 2 more grenades, held them for a few seconds after activation, then hurled them into the position, this time successfully destroying the emplacement. With the elimination of this key position, his unit was able to assault and overrun the enemy. SSG Stumpf’s relentless spirit of aggressiveness, intrepidity, and ultimate concern for the lives of his men, are in the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself and the U.S. Army
//S// Lyndon B. Johnson President
In September 1967, Kenneth Stumpf was discharged from the Army and returned to his old factory job in Menasha, Wisconsin. In April 1968, he got a call from an Army officer with the news that he had won his nation’s highest military award. At the urging of the Army, Stumpf re-enlisted and served another tour in Vietnam, where he was wounded while assaulting an enemy position. On 30 September 1994, after 29 years in the Army, Sergeant Major Kenneth Stumpf retired.
Wisconsin residents are referred to colloquially as Badgers. The badger and Stumpf share some of the same characteristics. The Badger’s nickname is “earth-mover.” Its powerful forelegs and long claws allow it to easily dig ground squirrels and gophers out of their burrows. Badgers are very powerful animals, but are not aggressive unless provoked.
The information in this article was sourced from a variety of sources both internal and external. Every effort was made to ensure that the information is current and correct. These articles are presented to honor the heroes they are written about.