For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. S/Sgt. Stumpf distinguished himself while serving as a squad leader of the 3d Platoon, Company C, on a search and destroy mission. As S/Sgt. 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 S/Sgt. 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 S/Sgt. 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 handgrenades, S/Sgt. 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 handgrenade through the aperture. It was immediately returned by the occupants, forcing S/Sgt. 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. S/Sgt. 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.
REMEBERING S/SGT. KENNETH EDWARD STUMPF
The National Medal of Honor Museum Foundation mourns the loss of Recipient Kenneth Edward who passed away on April 23, 2022, two days before the 55th anniversary of his Medal of Honor action date of April 25, 1967.
Born on September 28, 1944, at Menasha, Wisconsin, Stumpf loved sports growing up. He was drafted in September 1965, however, and would later joke that instead of throwing baseballs he ended up throwing hand grenades. After training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and Fort Ord, California, he was assigned to serve with the mechanized infantry at Fort Knox, Kentucky. A year into his service, however, Stumpf volunteered for service in Vietnam.
Arriving in Vietnam as a private, Stumpf was assigned as a replacement to a platoon in the 25th Infantry Division at Pleiku near the Cambodian border. On arrival, he remembered being shocked at the “thousand yard stares” of the veterans in his unit who had endured long jungle deployments. After being razzed for newbie missteps like wearing cologne, however, Stumpf settled in and learned how to stay cool under fire. And he became committed to his comrades, demanding to rejoin them even after a long, debilitating bout of malaria.
After months of combat, though still a private, Stumpf was offered the position of squad leader—mainly, he remembered, because “everyone else was killed, wounded or rotated.” He took on the job, telling his lieutenant, “Sir, I’ll be squad leader and I’ll do the best job I can.” He did, and more than that.
On April 25, 1967, then-Specialist Fourth Class Stumpf led his squad against a suspected enemy bunker complex near Duc Pho. As the squad moved through the jungle, “the whole world just exploded” as a sudden ambush left three of his men badly wounded and seemingly impossible to reach, close to an enemy bunker. Stumpf and the rest took cover in a trench. “And I’m trying to think—I’m scared, I am unbelievably scared because I can’t see the enemy,” Stumpf later remembered. “But I’m the squad leader and I also know that I’m in charge and that I have to make some decisions. This one, I’m not running, I’m not takin’ off, I’m a vet now.”
The firefight continued, and soon every man in Stumpf’s squad was injured except for himself. Leaving the cover of his trench, he rushed forward to recover the three injured soldiers who had fallen near the enemy. “I was lucky as crap!” he recalled. “And all the firing, it was just like, when is it, when is it, when is the one, when’s that slug gonna barrel me, just knock me right in the head. But I just, ‘Go, go, go!’” And under heavy enemy fire, Stumpf dragged all three badly wounded men back to safety, saving their lives. Although many of the wounded were evacuated by helicopter from a hot landing zone, though, the battle continued as the number of enemy increased and American airstrikes seared the perimeter. That’s when Stumpf volunteered to attack an enemy bunker in order to take some pressure off the Americans.
Stumpf—who usually carried a sandbag full of grenades on his back—crossed open, fire-swept ground to attack the bunker. Reaching it, he tossed a grenade through the aperture, but the enemy threw it out again and it exploded but fortunately did not injure Stumpf. Unwilling to back down, he pushed two more grenades into the aperture and destroyed the bunker. That evening, though totally exhausted, he was sent close to enemy lines again to bring back an American platoon that had become lost in the dark, a mission that he carried out successfully.
Although he learned afterwards that he had been recommended for the Medal of Honor and accordingly was pulled out of combat, Stumpf broke the rules to return to action with his comrades. By the time he received the Medal at the White House on September 19, 1968, Stumpf had left the Army and returned to Wisconsin to work in a factory. “It was kind of . . . a humbling experience,” he said, “because I did what I did because a job had to get done and . . . it was my responsibility.” Receiving the Medal inspired him to return to the service—first to Vietnam, where he spent a total of thirty months and was wounded in combat—and he remained in uniform for a total of twenty-nine years before retiring in 1994.
“I stayed in the military for twenty-nine years and I never forgot where I came from and that’s why I took care of those people underneath me,” he observed. “Because if I don’t, who will?” Throughout his life, Ken Stumpf remained dedicated to his fellow Vietnam veterans, hearkening back to the time he had spent with them in action. “Vietnam made me strong,” he said. “I mean, for the guys that got killed, I’m strong for them.” And just as he had in Vietnam, where, “I laughed a lot, I laughed a lot to keep people cool,” Stumpf—or “Stumpy,” as his men called him—always displayed his great sense of humor as he shared stories about his time in the service.
Ken Stumpf had three children and many grandchildren.