Missing Soldier’s Family Receives His Distinguished Service Cross
By Benjamin Abel
Special to American Forces Press Service
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C., Apr. 27, 2009 The history of the U.S. Army Special Forces Regiment is short in relation to that of the rest of the Army, but it’s long enough for fierce battles to become old war stories and for training missions to be lost to the vagueness of time and personal recollection.
Kermit Stewart, cousin of Army Maj. Jack Stewart, speaks at an April 22, 2009, award ceremony for the Special Forces soldier missing in action after 42 years. Stewart was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for exceptional gallantry while leading a mobile strike force company of U.S. and South Vietnamese soldiers near the Cambodian border March 24, 1967. Stewart was last seen providing cover fire allowing his unit to evacuate in the face of an overwhelming North Vietnamese force. U.S. Army photo by Benjamin Abel
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
But for the men who have worn the Green Beret, the memories of their Special Forces brothers, especially those missing in action and killed in combat, will never fade.
And so, though it took 42 years to happen, Special Forces senior leaders were asked to stand during the second annual Special Forces Symposium here April 22 as the Army officially awarded the Distinguished Service Cross to the family of Army Maj. Jack T. Stewart, 5th Special Forces Group, who went missing during a ferocious engagement in Vietnam.
On March 24, 1967, two American Green Berets joined with South Vietnamese soldiers to conduct a helicopter assault near the Cambodian border. The combined unit, a mobile strike force company, included then-Capt. Jack Stewart and Staff Sgt. Roger Hallberg. After landing near Bu Dop in Phuoc Long province, their patrol was greeted by enemy automatic weapons fire, requiring Hallberg to return to the rear area to report on the contact with the North Vietnamese army force.
During the firefight, Stewart rallied his men to secure a helicopter landing zone against an advancing enemy force later estimated to be two heavily armed battalions, greatly outnumbering Stewart’s men. Stewart was last seen by American forces as he and Hallberg provided cover to retreating members of their company.
Diane Hasner, Stewart’s former wife; son Troy Stewart and daughter Karen Kelly; Barbara Stewart Pratt, his sister; and Kermit Stewart, his cousin, represented the Stewart family at the ceremony and accepted the Distinguished Service Cross on behalf of the missing Green Beret.
Speaking on behalf of the family during the ceremony, Kermit Stewart recounted the Stewart family’s uniformed service to the nation during the Revolutionary War, through the Civil War, both world wars, Korea and Vietnam.
In a brief humorous moment, Kermit paralleled the 55 years required for Ezekiel Stewart to receive a pension for his service with the New Jersey State Volunteers during the American Revolution to the 42 years between the disappearance of Maj. Jack Stewart and the awarding of the Distinguished Service Cross.
“I don’t know why it takes the Stewarts so long to be recognized for their service,” Kermit said, “but we finally get there.”
Wearing a red, white and blue scarf embroidered with Major Stewart’s name, unit and date of his disappearance, Hasner spoke of the importance of the award and ceremony to give closure the missing Green Beret.
“This has been a long time coming,” Hasner said. “It’s time for closure for family, friends and the men involved in the situation that day.”
One of the men involved in the action that day was John M. Throckmorton, the lone survivor of the firefight. In the days following the fateful mission, then-2nd Lieutenant Throckmorton submitted Stewart and Hallberg for valor awards. After meeting the Hallberg family four years ago and learning that neither man had been awarded for their heroism in 1967, Throckmorton resubmitted paperwork that led to Hallberg being awarded the Silver Star and the eventual awarding of the Distinguished Service Cross to Stewart.
The Distinguished Service Cross is the second-highest military decoration that can be awarded to a member of the Army, and it is awarded for extreme gallantry and risk of life in actual combat with an armed enemy force.
(Benjamin Abel is deputy public affairs officer for the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg, N.C.)