WASHINGTON — On the evening of Nov. 21, 1951, James L. Stone looked out from his hilltop outpost in Korea and sensed what was coming. He was an Army lieutenant whose eight months of combat experience were enough to alert him to the imminence of an enemy assault.
The attack began at 9 p.m. with artillery and mortar fire and raged through the night as hundreds of Chinese stormed the hill. By the next day, half the men in the platoon were dead and their 28-year-old lieutenant had been shot three times.
But the lieutenant survived to spend nearly 30 years in the Army, rising to the rank of colonel and receiving the nation’s highest military decoration for valor.
‘‘His voice could still be heard faintly urging his men to carry on, until he lost consciousness,’’ reads the citation for the Medal of Honor Colonel Stone received for his actions that night near Sokkogae. ‘‘Only because of this officer’s driving spirit and heroic action was the platoon emboldened to make its brave but hopeless last-ditch stand.’’
Colonel Stone died Friday in Arlington, Texas, the Congressional Medal of Honor Society announced. The cause was not disclosed. He was 89.
After the battle, Colonel Stone was taken prisoner and held for 22 months, learning only after his release that he had been awarded the medal.
‘‘I don’t deserve the medal,’’ he said, near tears. ‘‘It should go to the men of my platoon. They were all so brave. Nothing I could say could tell you how proud I was to be with those men on that hill that night.’’
They had arrived hours before the onslaught to relieve another American unit, according to an account by Peter Collier, author of ‘‘Medal Of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty.’’ Colonel Stone knew that he and his men were in trouble as soon as US gunners sent up flares that bathed the hillside in light and revealed the advancing enemy. In short order, Colonel Stone’s 48 men faced as many as 800 Chinese.
Colonel Stone ‘‘stood erect and exposed to the terrific enemy fire calmly directed his men in the defense,’’ according to the Medal of Honor citation.
When a defensive flamethrower failed to function and the operator was killed, Collier wrote, Colonel Stone rushed to the site and restored it to working order for another operator.
At another point, he retrieved the platoon’s last light machine gun and carried it from position to position, firing on Chinese troops. ‘‘Throughout,’’ the citation reads, ‘‘he continued to encourage and direct his depleted platoon in its hopeless defense.’’
According to Collier’s account, the Chinese entered US trench lines and Colonel Stone ‘‘joined his men in a hand-to-hand fight, at times using his rifle as a club or knifing the enemy with his bayonet.’’ Shot in the neck, he never learned who applied the bandage that saved his life.
As the platoon’s losses mounted, Colonel Stone rounded up survivors and told them to rejoin the company. He stayed behind with the most severely wounded and was taken prisoner after he lost consciousness.
When US reinforcements retook the hill the next day, Collier wrote, they found 545 enemy dead.
‘Only because of this officer’s driving spirit and heroic action was the platoon emboldened to make its brave but hopeless last-ditch stand’
‘‘I am not proud of that,’’ Colonel Stone told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 2005. ‘‘I hate to see men killed. But, it’s either you or them.’’
After the Korean War, Colonel Stone served in Germany, oversaw ROTC units and served a year in Vietnam.
‘‘It was a long, hard night of combat,’’ he told the Star-Telegram in 2010, recalling the events of 1951. ‘‘My men did it . . . I was just there.’’