Dakota Datebook

Floyd Stone, POW/Silver Star

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Korean War has come to be called America’s Forgotten War for several reasons. Primarily, World War II and Vietnam have overshadowed it, but there was also an element of denial involved. Retired Army Major James T. Cooper of Albuquerque says, “This war was called a ‘Police Action,’ because we had just finished WWII, and War III was politically unacceptable to the American people, and therefore to President Truman and others. Unfortunately, in the opinion of many, our Secretary of State had given the communist world the go ahead to invade a few months earlier, by publicly stating Korea was outside our sphere of interest,” says Cooper.

The Korean War ultimately presented some of the most intense fighting ever experienced by American soldiers, and under some of the worst conditions. Nearly 37,000 allied servicemen lost their lives in three years. The vast majority – 33,492 – were American, including 172 from ND.

“Our forces were depleted when North Korea invaded South Korea on June 25th, 1950,” says Cooper. “The War Department had responded to the ‘bring our boys home’ at the end of WWII and essentially gutted our ‘unneeded’ active forces. Initially, all our weapons, ammo, equipment and K-Rations were leftovers from the WWII South Pacific War,” he says.

Battles at “Bloody Ridge,” the “Frozen Chosin” and “Heartbreak Ridge” were as brutal as any in WWII. To the dismay of many survivors, it was said Korea was the first war the U.S. lost. Some say that’s simply not true. When all was said and done, Allied Forces held the 38th parallel, and Communist forces failed in their grab for South Korea.

More than 7,000 Americans became prisoners during the Korean War, and more than 2,700 died in captivity. A N.D. man, Cpl. Floyd L. Stone, was captured on this date in 1951. He was from Calvin, about an hour north of Devils Lake, and he served with Co. E, 8th Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division. His platoon was assigned to protect an isolated hilltop outpost near Sokkogae. On Nov 21, Chinese Communist forces fired white phosphorus shells at the American position, which indicated they were marking the spot for artillery fire and probably a later assault.

Sure enough, at about 9 p.m. the Chinese unleashed a fierce artillery and mortar attack. Flares sent up by U.S. gunners illuminated a hillside crawling with hundreds of oncoming enemy troops; approximately a battalion – 500 men – were about to clash with Stone’s platoon of less than 50 men. But, the Americans repelled the attack, and during the next three hours, they fought off five more just like it. Around midnight, the Chinese added another battalion, meaning the 48 men in Stone’s platoon now faced possibly 800 enemy troops.

Meanwhile, Stone’s platoon leader, Lt. James Stone (no relation), urged his men to hold fast and make every shot count. But, when the Chinese broke through their perimeter, they were soon in hand to hand combat. With 24 of his men dead, Lt. Stone ordered the soldiers who could still walk to try to get back to the company, while he, Floyd Stone and five others covered their retreat. These seven men – most or all of them wounded – kept up the fight until just before dawn, when they were finally captured. The next day, 545 enemy dead were found on the hillside.

Corporal Stone was the first ND POW to be released and sent home in a prisoner exchange termed “Operation Big Switch” in August 1953. He was surprised to learn he’d since been awarded the Silver Star, and his platoon leader, James Stone, won the Medal of Honor.

Lt. Stone said he felt he didn’t deserve the Medal of Honor and gave all the credit to his men. In particular, he singled out one man as the “real hero” – a North Dakota soldier with the same last name. . . Floyd Stone.

Sources:
Fort Pierce News-Tribune. (Florida) 2 Sep 1953.
The Fargo Forum. 25 and 26 Aug 1953. 2 Sep 1953.
VFW Magazine. June/July 1990, p.26-27.
Collier, Peter. Holding Fast: James L. Stone. Military.com. <http://www.military.com/NewContent/0,13190,MoH_James_Stone,00.html>
Major James T. Cooper, U.S. Army, Infantry, Retired. (Personal correspondence with the author) 7-8 Nov 2005.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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