Bruce Alan Grandstaff is posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in a White House ceremony on July 10, 1969.

  • By Duane Colt Denfeld, Ph.D
  • Posted 7/09/2014
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 10810
On July 10, 1969, Platoon Sergeant Bruce Alan Grandstaff (1934-1967) is posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in a White House ceremony. On May 18, 1967, Sergeant Grandstaff was leading a 30-man reconnaissance patrol in Vietnam near the Cambodian border. His Weapons Platoon patrol came under heavy enemy fire from three sides with an escape path cut off. An enemy battalion of regular North Vietnamese soldiers had the patrol surrounded. They laid deadly fire onto the trapped American force. Sergeant Grandstaff while under intense enemy fire went to the aid of his wounded soldiers. Unable to breakout his platoon, Sergeant Grandstaff called in artillery to within 45 meters of his position. He also left the defense perimeter several times to direct helicopter gunships trying to hold off the enemy attack. However, the thick jungle canopy prevented effective helicopter gunfire. Severely wounded and with his platoon about to be overrun, he called in artillery on his position. He was hit and killed by enemy fire.

A Spokane Soldier  

Bruce Alan Grandstaff was born in Spokane. He attended Garfield Grade School and in 1952 graduated from North Central High School. At North Central he was active in sports and played first trumpet in the band. Grandstaff attended Spokane Technical School and Eastern Washington State College. 

On August 17, 1954, he joined the army and served at Fort Ord and Fort Lewis. He left the army in 1957 and returned to Spokane. There he married and had two daughters. In November 1961 he reenlisted to become a career soldier. He was assigned to Fort Lewis and in July 1962 completed Airborne School at Fort Benning Georgia. He had two tours in Korea before returning to Fort Lewis and assignment to the 4th Infantry Division.

By 1966 the division was in rigorous training and in the spring of that year rumors were widespread that the division would go to Vietnam. Preparations for battle were everywhere. A mock Vietnamese village was constructed and all the division units underwent training there. They learned of the unique aspects and dangers to be expected in Vietnam.  Grandstaff trained with the division while also working in the Special Services sports program at the post’s main gymnasium. Soldiers participating in Fort Lewis sports spoke highly of his demonstrated interest in their welfare. The division did go to Vietnam in the summer of 1966. Grandstaff’s unit, Weapons Platoon, Company B, 8th Infantry, 4th Infantry Division deployed in September 1966.

Going to War

The 4th Infantry Division arrived in Vietnam in stages during the fall of 1966. The division was stationed in Pleiku Province.

In April 1967 Sergeant Grandstaff led a platoon to rescue a 4th Infantry Division unit pinned down by North Vietnamese regular forces. He was awarded the Silver Star for valor in leading the rescue.

On May 18, 1967, Platoon Sergeant Grandstaff was leading the Weapons Platoon of B Company on reconnaissance mission up a well-used trail near the Cambodian border.  The patrol force of 30 soldiers was advancing under intermittent enemy fire when it was hit from three sides by intense fire. 

As Sergeant Grandstaff established a defensive perimeter he saw that two of his men were hit. He ran through intense fire to give them aid, but was only able to save one. The platoon under intense fire was unable to move, with the only escape route under withering enemy fire. Sergeant Grandstaff called in artillery to within 45 meters of his position.

To provide additional fire against the attackers, helicopter gunships were called in. Sergeant Grandstaff crawled outside the perimeter to mark the perimeter with smoke grenades. The smoke was diffused by the jungle canopy so Grandstaff moved to other locations to release his last smoke grenades. While placing the smoke grenades he received a leg wound.

The jungle canopy hid the trapped platoon from effective American artillery. Sergeant Grandstaff crawled back to his platoon and called in artillery even closer.  He also fired tracer bullets into the air to indicate the platoon position to the overhead friendly gunships. His firing the tracers also identified him to the enemy, which zeroed in on him. He was hit again in his other leg. Despite heavy bleeding he crawled to an enemy machine gun and destroyed it with grenades. He urged on his troops, but they were completely surrounded and overpowered.

Rather than being overrun, he called artillery in on their position. Sergeant Grandstaff was killed by enemy fire. It had been a five-hour battle. The friendly artillery fire knocked down trees on some of the defenders, hiding them from the enemy who came in after the barrage. 

A rescue force the next day found that Grandstaff’s platoon had suffered 22 dead and eight wounded. The survivors had played dead when the North Vietnamese regulars searched their bodies for souvenirs and weapons. Private First Class Clifford A. Roundtree (b. 1947) said that he lay with his face in the mud faking death as enemy soldiers emptied his pockets. Private First Class Roundtree and other survivors spoke of Platoon Sergeant Grandstaff as an inspiration and fearless leader. He was older than his troops and a father figure to them and in battle a soldier who refused to give up.           

On July 10, 1969, in a private White House ceremony, Platoon Sergeant Bruce Alan Grandstaff was awarded posthumously the Medal of Honor.    

Honoring a Soldier 

Bruce A. Grandstaff was buried at Greenwood Memorial Terrace Spokane. In September 2010 a monument to him was dedicated at the cemetery. His daughter Tami McMath Grandstaff (b. 1960) spoke at its dedication, telling of her father being their custodial parent and very influential in her and sister Heather’s (b. 1959) life. A third sister, Jeanne (b. 1967) was only three days old when Sergeant Grandstaff was killed in Vietnam.

It was told that Bruce Grandstaff taught us the meaning of sacrifice. Spokane’s North Central High School has an exhibit memorializing Grandstaff, Spokane’s hero and school graduate.

On October 7, 1971, the impressive Fort Lewis Library, which would receive architectural awards, was dedicated to Platoon Sergeant Bruce Alan Grandstaff with plaques recalling his heroic actions. His parents and children attended the Grandstaff Memorial Library dedication ceremony.  

In 2013 the Spokane Veterans Affairs Medical Center was renamed the Mann-Grandstaff Center to commemorate Joe E. Mann (1922-1944) of Reardan, Washington, and Bruce Grandstaff, both Medal of Honor recipients. Joe E. Mann was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for heroic actions in Holland during World War II. Plaques in the medical center relate the story of each soldier’s heroism.


Sources: Donald K. and Helen L. Ross, Washington State Men Of Valor (Burley, Washington: Coffee Break Press, 1980); Edward F. Murphy, Vietnam Medal of Honor Heroes (New York: Ballantine Books, 2005); "4th Division May Go to Viet Nam," Seattle Daily Times, July 4, 1966, p. 1; "Spokaneite May Have Called in Artillery Fire," Ibid., May 21, 1967, p. 17; "Spokane Man To Get Medal," Ibid., June 29, 1969, p. 30; "Spokane Soldier Awarded Medal," Ibid., July 10, 1969, p.10; “Grandstaff Library Dedicated,” The Ranger, October 7, 1971, p. 3.

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