Silver Star recipient dies at 75
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on January 24, 2011 1:46 PM
Wayne County lost one of its heroes late Saturday evening -- a man who, more than 40 years ago, exposed himself to enemy fire to save four wounded comrades in a Vietnam canal.
Army Maj. Bob Stone, also remembered as a "fabulous volunteer" by members of the Wayne County chapter of the American Red Cross, has died at age 75.
And those who knew him are still coping with the news of his death, as they reflect on the life of a man they characterize as "selfless."
People like retired Marine Bill Carr, chaplain emeritus of the state Military Order of the Purple Heart, the organization that brought the two Vietnam veterans together more than 15 years ago.
"I'm just bewildered. I loved that man," Carr said. "He's been an inspiration to me. He'll always be a hero of mine."
And he has been since Carr first heard the story of the events that unfolded on a muggy night in the central Vietnam highlands.
It was March 13, 1966 -- a day Stone described in an interview with the News-Argus in the summer of 2007.
"We moved into a night defensive position -- had been running operations all day. We pulled in there around 5 in the afternoon," Stone said then. "We set up our position, and we would go after the Vietcong or just lure them into us. We set up all the machine guns and the mortars and all of a sudden, all hell broke loose outside our perimeter and to the east."
Having been in Tuy Hoa for close to a year, the young officer had grown accustomed to the sound of enemy fire.
But something troubled him about this particular frenzy.
"We were on a canal. Nobody knew what was happening," Stone said. "All I knew was it was coming from the east. So I took off east by myself."
He made his way to the eastern point of the perimeter, stopping only when he saw an American jeep in the distance -- a soldier slouched down in the seat.
"I went to the jeep. It was an artillery lieutenant," Stone said. "I saw a guy on the ground and another guy hunched over in the vehicle. Obviously these people were hurt, so I went down there."
"I found that there were four guys, two of them on the ground. The ones on the ground were wounded but not seriously, so I moved them down on the embankment. We were receiving fire across the canal, just all over the place."
The soldiers in the jeep were fading.
So without hesitation, Stone jumped in the jeep and took off for cover -- not stopping until he reached the others in his squadron.
But in the back of his mind, he knew he would have to go back toward the enemy, back to the canal where the other soldiers were taking cover.
Their lives were not the only ones at stake, Stone said during that 2007 interview.
An armed artillery truck was ambushed, too, and there was "no way" enemy troops were going to get their hands on that truck -- at least not without going through Stone first, he said.
"There was a .50-caliber machine gun mounted on that weapons carrier. It was fully loaded. That's the only thing I kept thinking," he said. "Then (the Vietcong) ran two guys across the canal. They got pretty close to that weapons carrier. I don't know why but I eliminated them. Then I went back, I climbed up on that truck, turned the machine gun around and just hosed their area down. All I could see was them in control of that .50-caliber machine gun. I couldn't let that happen."
Stone was awarded the Silver Star for his actions that day.
And long after returning to Wayne County, he found that service to others would always be a part of him -- whether he was wearing his country's uniform or not.
As a Red Cross volunteer, he was part of several natural disaster relief efforts.
"He was an integral part of our disaster program for many, many years," said Chuck Waller, the Wayne County chapter's executive director. "We often used him as a resource for the best way was to handle this or that. He was a tremendous asset.
"And he was very selfless, very giving. He was the embodiment of what the American Red Cross is all about. He was always in it to help others."
Just as he was that muggy day in Vietnam.
Just as he was every day since his return from the war that, in many ways, defined him.
"He's one of the best soldiers this country has ever had -- one of the best people," Carr said. "Bob was just a good man."