The First Black Soldier to Receive the Medal of Honor in Vietnam

Milton Lee Olive III gave his life to save lots of 4 comrades 

Though President Harry S. Truman’s Government Order 9981 ended segregation within the army in July 1948, Vietnam was the nation’s first absolutely built-in warfare. Texan Jimmy Stanford, a lieutenant within the 173rd Airborne Brigade, which in Might 1965 turned the primary main Military unit in Vietnam, felt uncomfortable with the desegregation. He had grown up in a segregated city and mentioned the “N-word” sometimes. However he didn’t take into account himself prejudiced and was grateful for each man in his third Platoon of B Firm, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment.

Stanford’s senior platoon sergeant, Vince Yrineo, a 35-year-old Hispanic who had endured racial prejudice, was fast to name his platoon chief out. “I merely wasn’t going to take that from some redneck shavetail [second lieutenant], and I needed him to know straight away the place I stood,” Yrineo recalled years later.

One in all Yrineo’s troopers was Milton Lee Olive III, an 18-year-old black Chicagoan everybody often referred to as “Skipper.” His mom died 4 hours after he was born on Nov. 7, 1946.

A lot of Olive’s youth was spent in Chicago along with his father and different members of the family, however he additionally stayed on his grandparents’ farm in Lexington, Mississippi, the place he went to an all-black highschool that was an extension of a church.

In January 1964, throughout Olive’s second 12 months of highschool, the twenty fourth Modification was ratified, guaranteeing the fitting to vote with out paying ballot taxes that had been used to suppress the black vote within the South. Olive turned one of many 3,000 college students taking part in “Mississippi Freedom Colleges,” which taught black college students about their rights and their potential to convey change on the polls. When the college 12 months led to 1964, Olive turned a volunteer in The Mississippi Summer season Undertaking to register black voters.

The escalating violence involved Olive’s grandmother, who despatched him again to Chicago. In Chicago, the 17-year-old discovered that a few of his credit earned in Mississippi didn’t rely, and he must repeat his sophomore 12 months. Discouraged, he left faculty to discover a job, however that didn’t pan out both. On his 18th birthday Olive enlisted within the Military. In a letter dwelling he wrote: “You mentioned I used to be loopy for becoming a member of up. Nicely, I’ve gone you one higher. I’m now an official U.S. Military Paratrooper.”

One month after the 173rd Airborne arrived in Vietnam, Pfc. Olive joined the unit there. His cherubic countenance, quiet demeanor and tendency to keep away from vulgar language earned a second nickname: “Preacher.”

On Oct. 22, 1965, helicopters inserted Olive’s unit into dense jungle outdoors Phu Cuong, close to Saigon, the place it was engaged by a big enemy drive. The Individuals returned fireplace, forcing the enemy right into a retreat, and Stanford rallied his males to present chase. However Stanford, Yrineo, Olive and two different troopers bumped into an ambush. “Look out, lieutenant, grenade,” Olive shouted, as one landed in the course of the group. After which the personal threw his physique over the explosive, giving his life to save lots of 4 comrades.

“It was essentially the most unbelievable show of selfless bravery I ever witnessed,” Stanford mentioned later.

On April 21, 1966, the elder Milton Olive, who had remarried, and his spouse, Antoinette, had been on the White Home when President Lyndon B. Johnson detailed their son’s heroic acts. Stanford regarded on as Olive turned the primary black recipient of the Medal of Honor within the Vietnam Struggle. Stanford “modified drastically after that day [in Vietnam],” Yrineo instructed me, and mentioned the 2 males turned “excellent associates.”

“A day doesn’t go by that I don’t take into consideration him,” Stanford mentioned. “Milton Olive modified me. I made a vow by no means to overlook him.” 

—Doug Sterner, an Military veteran who served two excursions in Vietnam, is curator of the Army Instances Hall of Valor, the most important database of U.S. army valor awards.

This text was printed within the August 2018 difficulty of Vietnam


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