Valmeyer native reflects on Vietnam - Republic-Times | News

Valmeyer native reflects on Vietnam

By on October 11, 2017 at 12:12 pm

Jim Stumpf

Jim Stumpf is known for annual return trips to his hometown of Valmeyer, where he coordinates a reunion with the Valmeyer High School Class of 1953.

If Stumpf catches someone he knows, he may engage them in a long but friendly chat and will take the opportunity to boast about his new home in Florida. 

But Stumpf has another side to him not everyone knows about.

“The Vietnam War,” a Ken Burns documentary recently featured on PBS, gives a detailed account of the war that raged between the Vietcong and U.S. soldiers for 20 years. Stumpf, however, can share his personal story of what he experienced as an Air Force veteran.

The former navigator began his service in 1959 and was deployed to Vietnam in 1969, where he served for a year. Stumpf was in the 433rd Tactical Fighter Squadron stationed in Laos, which served as a test unit for laser-guided bombs.

A laser-guided bomb improves the accuracy in striking a target using laser guidance. Stumpf described the role he and his unit played in the war as bombing fuel dumps, storage places and truck parks, among other such targets.

“Pretty much anything to hurt the enemy,” he said.

Stumpf’s unit had its successes, though one mission in particular stands out to him.

“We had a (Republic F-105 Thunderchief plane) leading us and we went to this place in Laos,” he said. “And when we got to the main road there, we just bombed the hell out of it.”

After returning from Vietnam, Stumpf received many different medals for his service, including seven air medals and the Bronze Star, awarded for either heroic achievement, heroic service, meritorious achievement or meritorious service in a combat zone.

Stumpf served in Florida later in his military career, where he helped to safely route airplanes when a hurricane hit in the area.

“You looked at storm tracks and you knew where the hurricane was going and how many planes there were with air traffic control,” he said.

When he retired from the military in 1980, Stumpf wasn’t ready to leave his glory days behind. He soon learned that the organization known as the River Rats allows any former U.S. military aircrew members to join and jumped onboard. 

The River Rats, also known as the Red River Valley Fighter Pilots Association, was developed after a 1966 tactics conference in Thailand that included the Air Force, Navy and Marine aircrews who were flying combat missions over the Red River Valley of North Vietnam.

They later formed this into a permanent organization known as the Red River Valley Fighter Pilots Association. For more information or to join, go to

Stumpf, who recently attended the organization’s 50th reunion, participates in some of the functions and helps raise money for the organization.

“We have a lot of fun doing this, but the charity is our thing, trying to help out,” he said. 

Stumpf serves as a glowing example of a River Rat in both the military sense and in the fact that he stays true to his Valmeyer heritage.

Sean McGowan

Sean is a die-hard Cubs fan, despite the relentless peer pressure coming from the rest of the Republic-Times staff. He and his wife, Jacqui, have been married for two years. Originally from the west suburbs of Chicago, Sean and his wife moved down to Normal to attend Illinois State University and stayed central Illinois residents for the past four years.