William C. Stinson Jr., “Doc" to his classmates of ’53, had a unique quality of personality that endeared him immediately to all who became his associates. His Georgia accent mixed with a warm laugh, a genuine hand of friendship, an outgoing vitality for life and a true love, understanding and compassion for his fellow man joined together to form a man of unforgettable character. In mute testimony of the mark he made on all those lucky enough to have known him are words written to his wife by men of his infantry battalion following his death in combat in March 1969. “Your husband was a brave, dedicated soldier and a peerless leader. The men of this battalion revered and respected him so much, that any among us would give his life in the Colonel's stead.”
“Doc” Stinson was born in Dublin, Georgia, 8 September 1928, to William C. and Robbie Lee Stinson. His code of life had its foundation in the Christian faith as Clydene, his sister, Rayford, his brother, and his father and mother dedicated their lives to the spirit of God. The peace of mind which helped "Doc” to understand that which must be done to be a dedicated soldier was based on this early introduction to his religion. When he married Mildred Pierce a few busy hours after graduation on 2 June 1953 he acquired a partner and wife who was to share this leavening through faith for the rest of his life.
It would be difficult to point to one thing or another as being the single factor which influenced Bill Stinson into deciding on a career in the Army. His faith in the human spirit and his ability to impart this feeling to all rank and file as he broadened his personal contacts had something to do with it. Patriotism, an ingredient essential to dedicating one’s self to bearing arms for his country, was certainly there. Possibly his excitement in the flush of responsibility and adventure was his forte. Assuredly, the influence of being the son of a Regular Army soldier from the time he was twelve years old started the thread which hardened into a purpose in life.
This purpose was not realized without a number of struggles with his conscience on the state of things shortly after World War II. He moved from high school graduation in 1944 to Emory College, Covington, Georgia, carrying with him the vague idea of becoming a doctor. In 1946 at the age of sixteen he enlisted in the Army, serving as a staff sergeant in the 19th Infantry Regiment. After being discharged from the service in 1947 he returned to Emory—just long enough to find that he could not ignore his love for the military way of life. He again enlisted in June 1948 and applied for a Regular Army appointment to West Point. He then served with the 1802d Special Regiment at West Point until his entry as a cadet on 2 July 1949 as a member of the Class of 1953.
Many pages could be written about the friendships, counselling and singleness of purpose imparted by “Doc” to every cadet who shared with him those four years at the Academy. When the Plebe system seemed to be suffocating, he gave it meaning. When academic ruin seemed inevitable, he gave encouragement. When the soul faltered, he gave it life. It was probably in tribute to some of these elements of his character which led to the lines found in the HOWITZER beside his name: “When Army men gather we’ll no doubt find Doc spinning another yarn. It’ll be a long time before we find anyone else with as much time set aside to spend with others."
Doc moved from the life of a cadet to that of an infantry officer with the same ease and eagerness that marked his tenure at the Military Academy. No new second lieutenant of infantry could have ever donned the army uniform with a brighter outlook for the future. He had a new wife, courted and won over a period of more than five years, a new car, a raft of close friends who would forevermore feel the touch of his hand when it was needed, the near opportunity to become a paratrooper and Ranger, and finally, as a first assignment, duty with the 11th Airborne Division, Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
Assignments, subsequent to Fort Campbell, moved Doc and Mildred to Ulm, Germany, and Fort Carson, Colorado, with the 9th Infantry Division, to Fort Benning, Georgia, for duty with the Infantry Board and then in 1961 to the Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. During those eight years his ring of friends expanded and his professional qualities sharpened. Also by 1961 Mildred and he were able to boast of three wonderful daughters: Dawn, Leigh Ann and Katherine. Doc’s pride, enthusiasm and devotion to his family were perfectly balanced with an unabated zeal for his profession, and provide some insight into his strength of character that later were to steady his hand in leading his troops in combat. A letter to Doc’s family, following his death, from a former enlisted man and subordinate when Doc was with the Infantry Board, typifies the type of impression he made on others during this period of his life. “I have met few men in my life that I had as much respect and admiration for as I had for your husband. He was a fine man.”
Doc's first brush with combat in Vietnam came in 1962 when he was assigned there as an advisor in the headquarters of the Vietnamese III Corps. Yarns he spun of adventures there during his first five months showed that the most trying of circumstances never reduced his tenacious adherence to those high ideals that always underscored his competence. Doc returned home at the end of five months due to wounds he received during an enemy ambush in late November 1962. He was to carry three of the enemy's bullets in his leg from this encounter until his death in 1969.
Probably one of the high points in his career was a three-year assignment with the Office of Military Instruction, Tactical Department, at West Point from 1963-66. It was here that all of his attributes came to focus. His influence on the thinking of cadets was profound and positive when there was so much in the negative to be seen as young men began to question the reasons for a war so far away. There is no doubt that Doc's warmth, sincerity, dedication and professionalism gave many a young officer a goal towards which to set his sights. This highlight in Doc’s past is best summed up by Colonel Bill Ray, his boss for those three years, “—to pay honor to Doc as he comes home to the place which I guess next to his God, his country, and his family he loved best of all. There was always something special about Doc—something that made him better. I think perhaps it was a combination of gentle compassion, his quiet courage, and his deep and genuine concern for the feeling and well-being of others."
The prelude to Doc’s final combat assignment began with duty in the Headquarters, Commander-in-Chief, Pacific, Honolulu, Hawaii, 1966-67. As a staff officer in the office of the J3 he daily and closely followed events in Southeast Asia and felt that all of the experience of the previous fifteen years would have been for naught if he could not become a part of the United States effort there. He never missed a chance to do all he could for those people he knew well or even slightly who came to Hawaii for their Rest and Recuperation. Their visits were enhanced by his friendship and they in tum helped to add impetus to his inevitable move towards "the sound of the guns." His fervor in seeking a command in Vietnam ultimately resulted in a reduction by one year of his tour in Hawaii and his assignment to command the 1st Battalion, 52d Infantry, Americ0000000al Division in Vietnam in September 1968.
There is no doubt that Doc led his troops in combat with the same enthusiasm, competence, understanding and tenacity that was evident in his past. His courage, daring and compassion are marked by his being awarded two Silver Stars for valor, a Soldiers Medal for courage in rescuing wounded comrades and the Air Medal for achievements in aerial flights. It was during the last month of his command that his battalion faced its most bitter combat. While providing protection to the Vietnamese villagers in the Hau Due Valley of Quang Tin Province and attempting to relieve enemy pressure on a Special Forces camp, two of his companies became heavily engaged with a Regular North Vietnamese Regiment. On the third of March 1969, a lull appeared in the conflict and Doc moved in his helicopter to perform that same act of mercy that had earned him the Soldiers Medal—that of rescuing from the battle area a number of his wounded troops. On this occasion his aircraft met a fusillade of enemy small arms fire. Doc shortly succumbed to a mortal wound received in this, his last combat action. He had found that “soldier’s resting place beneath a soldier's blow."
If Doc could pick a tribute as witness to what he was trying to do, he would probably feel most moved by the words sent to his family by Major Thanh, the Vietnamese Chief of Hau Due District. “Your husband had a very good heart and was able to care for his soldiers and give help to the people in Hau Due and we want to say that your loss was felt by us also. We cannot forget his works and his great sacrifice.”
The legacy of "Doc" Stinson’s sacrifice will always remain in the hearts of those who have had their lives forever enriched by their associations with him. As a husband and father, his gentleness, thoughtfulness and loving devotion provide a rich heritage to his family for which they may always cherish, and through which they should derive great peace of mind. In testimony of the great mark made by this truly remarkable soldier, patriot and friend, two physical monuments have been dedicated. Shortly after his death the men of his infantry battalion renamed their main base camp near Chu Lai, Republic of Vietnam, "Fire Support Base Stinson," and on the fourth of June 1971, the Commanding Officer of the United States Army School and Training Center, Fort Gordon, Georgia, dedicated a new guest house bearing his name. Surely no one could ask for more than to know that his short passage on earth had had such great meaning to so many.
“Green be the turf above thee,
Friend of my better days!
None knew thee but to love thee.
Nor named thee but to praise.
While memory bids me weep thee.
Nor thoughts nor words are free.
The grief is fixed too deeply
That mourns a man like thee."
—E. E. F., A Friend and Classmate
- COL Benjamin R. Battle, USAF, Retired
- Mrs. Elbert E. Fuller
- Ms. Mary E. Fuller
- LTC (R) and Mrs. William D. Jones '53
- COL (R) Clifford C. Neilson '53 and Ms. Stephanie Heller
- COL (R) and Mrs. Jack A. Neuberger '53
- COL (R) Early J. Rush III '53