Michael Stubbs can recall, without hesitation, the first time he could talk about his 2-year tour in Vietnam.
It was the late 1980s, two decades after the Purple Heart recipient earned his honorable discharge from the U.S. Army, and he was watching television at home on a Saturday night. Country singer Lee Greenwood was performing his patriotic song “God Bless the U.S.A.,” also known as “Proud To Be An American,” and Mr. Stubbs simply broke down.
“He started singing and it had so much feeling, it was so intense, that it just hit me,” said the 72-year-old Harrisburg resident. “He had so much emotion that I started crying and sweating, and I couldn’t stop for 20 minutes. I had to go get a shower because I was crying and sweating so much.”
After regaining his composure, Mr. Stubbs – a machine-gunner, sergeant, and infantry squad leader of the Army’s 2ndBattalion, 28thInfantry from 1966-68 – then began sharing some of his Vietnam War experiences with his wife, Carolyn.
Breaking His Silence
Mr. Stubbs told his wife, whom he met and married after the war – and celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in January – about some of the close friends who were killed in the conflict, of the men who died under his command, and how he earned his Purple Heart.
The Charlotte native earned his medal on October 9, 1967, when he and his company, which was so badly depleted that it was merged with another company, walked into an ambush. “Our 140 men walked into 1,400 of the enemy – it was a mess,” he said.
Of those 140 soldiers, only two escaped unscathed; the other 138 were either killed or wounded in the battle. A 30-caliber round and other shrapnel had pierced Mr. Stubbs’ neck, and surgeons had to cut from his right earlobe all the way to his collarbone to retrieve the round, which had lodged itself dangerously close to his spine.
He woke up the day after his surgery with his Purple Heart, along with the round that almost killed him placed inside a clear plastic bag, pinned to his chest. “The doc told me he didn’t know how that bullet didn’t take my head off,” Mr. Stubbs said.
Though he survived and somehow managed not to lose any men under his command that day, all ambush survivors would perish eight days later, on October 17, 1967, in another fierce battle while Mr. Stubbs was recovering in a hospital.
“I came home and met Carolyn, got married, and for 22 years, she never knew what I did in Vietnam,” said Mr. Stubbs, who was wounded 20 days before his tour was to end. “You just didn’t talk about it.”
But that interaction would prompt him to begin helping other veterans. And, a few years ago, it would inspire him to reach out to Hickory Ridge High School Athletic Director Philip Furr to inquire about the possibility of hosting a Military Appreciation Night at the school.
A ‘Salute To Veterans’
Scheduled to begin at 7:15 p.m., about 15 minutes before the Ragin’ Bulls host the Concord Spiders in Hickory Ridge’s home opener, this Friday’s event will mark the fourth consecutive Military Appreciation Night held on The Ridge prior to a varsity football game.
The district’s annual “Salute to Veterans” typically features between 15 and 40 local veterans, representing all branches of the military. Mr. Stubbs notes that most tend to be Korean or Vietnam veterans, two groups deserving of recognition because many were not initially welcomed home upon their return to the United States.
“I’m hoping to have more than a dozen veterans, and some are bringing their wives,” said Mr. Stubbs, who serves as commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, Combat Wounded Veterans Chapter 634.
The chapter represents roughly 180 Purple Heart recipients, representing 15 counties, including Cabarrus, in the southern and western Piedmont region of North Carolina.
In addition to recognizing deserving veterans, the ceremony will serve as a reminder to students of the sacrifices made by veterans, including some who are their neighbors. Prior to working with Mr. Furr to schedule a military night, Mr. Stubbs would occasionally stop by the high school to talk about his experiences and those of other veterans.
During Friday’s ceremony, both veterans and active duty military personnel in attendance will be asked to stand along the sidelines so they can be recognized. Hickory Ridge’s Blue Regiment band will perform “Echo Taps,” and the honorees will be asked to join officials and the team captains for the coin toss, according to Mr. Furr.
“It’s a great night for our students, too, and a chance for them to experience first-hand some of the men and women in our community who have served our country with honor,” said Mr. Furr, whose father was a Korean War veteran, and whose brother served in the Navy during the War on Terror. “You can never thank a soldier, sailor, airman, or veteran enough.”
Veterans and active duty military personnel (with ID) will be admitted for free to Friday night’s game. General admission is $7. Gates open at 6 p.m.
“The young people now, they really don’t know what the military entails,” Mr. Stubbs said. “Most of the adults [in the stands] are going to be in their 40s, like the ages of my two daughters, and they don’t really realize what these fellows did for their country, and what they went through when they came home.”
The ceremony on Friday evening should help educate them.