Mitchell William Stout joined the U.S. Army in Raleigh in August 1967. He was only 17.
He grew up in Loudon, Tennessee, a small town near Knoxville that today has fewer than 5,000 people. He dropped out of high school during his senior year — just shy of graduation — and left Tennessee to live with his father, Jack, in Sanford.
And that’s how Sanford figures into Mitchell Stout’s story.
The United States’ involvement in the war in Vietnam began in the 1950s, but the U.S. didn’t officially “wage war” until five days after the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964. It was the end of his first summer in Sanford in 1967 when Stout drove to Raleigh to enlist, knowing pretty well where that decision would take him. He would soon join the Army’s Battery C, 1st Battalion, 44th Artillery Unit. In less than two years, he was fighting in Vietnam.
His second tour began in December 1969. Already, he had risen to the rank of sergeant.
Three months later, on March 12, 1970, a U.S. Army outpost at Khe Gio Bridge near the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone was overrun by North Vietnamese troops. Of the 14 Americans who fought in this battle, one was captured, five were wounded and two were killed. Mitchell Stout was one of those two men. He had just turned 20 two weeks earlier.
An excerpt from the account of the fight by Don Wittenberger: “For the 11 U.S. survivors, four would have died if a squad leader (Stout) had not sacrificed himself to save them from a grenade. It was a terrifying experience.”
According to accounts of the fight, when the intensity of the North Vietnamese attack subsided, an enemy tossed a grenade into the bunker occupied by Stout and four other men. Stout ran to the live grenade, picked it up and tucked it into his abdomen and ran for the door to toss it out. The grenade exploded as he made it to the door — his decision to shield his fellow soldiers from the blast by tucking it into his stomach saved four other lives.
Stout was honored posthumously with the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest award of valor against an enemy force. He is the only U.S. Army Defense Artilleryman to earn the citation.
Though he lived in Sanford for a short time, Sanford and Lee County are listed as his “home of record” in official Army records. In 2009, his hometown of Loudon dedicated a memorial in his name in front of the Loudon County Courthouse. A bridge in that town is also named in his honor, as well as a gymnasium on the main post in Fort Bliss.
Of the 58,315 Americans killed in the Vietnam War, 17 hailed from Lee County, North Carolina.
|BROADWAY, NORTH CAROLINA:|
|PFC DANNIE JAMES BREWINGTON|
|MONCURE, NORTH CAROLINA:|
|CPL JOHN WALTER BURKE|