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Area veteran remembered
Medal of Honor recipient rests in Farragut

For most people the age of 20 is a beginning; the teen years are over and the unlimited possibilities of adulthood loom on the horizon.

Unfortunately, for Mitchell Stout, the age of 20 was an ending. On March 12, 1970, less than three weeks after his 20th birthday, the final chapter of Stout’s life was written as he scooped up a grenade that had been thrown into a bunker at the Khe Gio Bridge in Vietnam. In the United States, due to time zone adjustments, it was March 11 when he died – his mother’s birthday.

It’s hard to believe that at the time of his death, with barely two short decades of life under his belt, Stout was a seasoned soldier starting a second tour of duty in Vietnam. Born in Knoxville on Feb. 24, 1950, Stout grew up in Loudon County with his mother, Faye Thomas. At the age of 17, the blue-eyed, blond-haired Stout dropped out of Lenoir City High School and went to live with his father, Jack Stout, in Siler City, N.C.

In Siler City, Stout worked for Siler City Mills Inc., and when his father moved to Sanford, the younger Stout was employed by Wilson Feed Company. Like many

a typical Southern boy, Stout liked to fish, hunt and camp in the woods and waterways of Tennessee and North Carolina. He was 6-foot-1 with an easy grin and liked to eat country ham.

In August 1967, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and was initially stationed in Germany. After serving a one-year tour of duty in Vietnam, he was honorably discharged.

Stout returned to the United States only to grow restless in civilian life. He felt he could be of greater use back in Vietnam and was deeply concerned about the young soldiers and their lack of proper training.

He told his friends and family he knew he could help somebody if he returned. In January 1970, Stout re-enlisted and was assigned to Battery C, 1st Battalion, 44th Artillery as squad leader in charge of the Khe Gio Bridge.

According to retired Seattle attorney, Don Wittenberger, who was at battalion headquarters about 20 miles away on the night of March 12, 1970, “The attack on Khe Gio Bridge was well planned, and the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) had positioned numerous mortar tubes in the surrounding hills. The survivors told me the mortar fire was so heavy it was impossible to go outside.

“Mitch and four other guys were sheltering in the bunker when the enemy grenade was thrown in,” Wittenberger said, “This is where the ‘maybe I can help somebody’ came into play. He was the sergeant, the squad leader, the senior man. So, he took it upon himself the responsibility of picking up the grenade and taking it outside. You need to understand he had no time to think about it, only react, and that he knew doing it meant he was going to die. Not in some abstract way in the distant future, but right then, right there.”

Of the 14 Americans who fought in this battle, two were killed, five wounded, and one captured. At the time of this action, Stout was only five weeks into his second tour in the Republic of South Vietnam. Also killed was SP4 Terry Lee Moser, of Barto, Pa. 2nd Lt. Gary B. Scull, of Harlan, Iowa, was listed as missing in action.

“Rumors started circulating at 1/44 headquarters before the sun had set on the day of battle that Sgt. Stout would be recommended for the Medal of Honor,” Wittenberger said. “Lt. Col. Myers signed the paperwork, and Jack Stout and Faye Thomas went to Blair House on July 17, 1974, during the last days of the Nixon Administration, to accept their son's medal from Vice President (Gerald) Ford. Jack Stout donated it in 1991 to the National Medal of Honor Museum, where it is on permanent display.

“Of the 245 Medals of Honor awarded during the Vietnam War almost two-thirds of them

were given posthumously,” Wittenberger said, “often the soldier got killed doing what earned him the medal.

“During the Vietnam War, the Medal of Honor was awarded to a number of soldiers who were killed by using their bodies to shield others from enemy grenades, as Sgt. Stout did,” said Wittenberger, “What distinguishes Sgt. Stout is that he is the only army air defense artilleryman in American history to receive the Medal of Honor.”

Other awards and decorations Sgt. Stout received are the Bronze Star with one Oak Leaf Cluster; Army Commendation Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster, National Defense Service Medal; Vietnamese Campaign Medal and Combat Infantryman Badge.

On March 12, 1995, on the 25th anniversary of Stout’s death, a ceremony was held to dedicate the Mitchell W. Stout memorial. The memorial ground project, laid out like the medal-of-honor star in a circle formation,

was spearheaded by James R. “Buddy” White. Several stones commemorate the men of Loudon and Knox Counties who fought and died in service to the United States. The memorial is located at the Virtue Cumberland Presbyterian Church cemetery on Evans Road in Farragut.

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