Milton Lee Olive III was a United States Army soldier and a recipient of America's highest military decoration ‐ the Medal of Honor ‐ for his actions in the Vietnam War. At the age of 18, Olive sacrificed his life to save others by smothering a live grenade. He was the first African-American Medal of Honor recipient of the Vietnam War.
Olive joined the Army from his birth city of Chicago, Illinois in 1964, and by 1965 was serving as a Private First Class in Company B of the 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade in Vietnam. On October 22, 1965, while moving through the jungle with four fellow soldiers in Phu Cuong, Olive sacrificed his life by smothering an enemy-thrown grenade with his body.
For his actions on that day, he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. At a ceremony on the steps of the White House, on April 21, 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson presented Olive's Medal of Honor to his father and stepmother. Also in attendance were two of the four men whose lives were saved by Olive's actions.
Olive's body was returned to the United States and buried in West Grove Cemetery at Lexington, Holmes County, Mississippi. Olive was born in Chicago but left as a young boy living in Lexington, Mississippi where he finished high school.
In 1966 a plaque and park was dedicated in his honor. In 1979, the city of Chicago recognized Olive by naming Olive Park on Lake Michigan in his honor. Olive-Harvey College, one of the City Colleges of Chicago, is named after both Olive and fellow Medal of Honor recipient Carmel Bernon Harvey Jr. The Milton L. Olive Middle School in Wyandanch, Long Island, New York, is also named in his honor.
In 2007, a State Historical Marker was erected for Olive in Lexington, Mississippi. The dedication ceremonies included an address by the Adjutant General of the Mississippi National Guard. Fort Campbell has a recreation facility named in his honor. In 2012, Fort Benning, GA dedicated a Simulations facility in his honor named Olive Hall (The Maneuver Battle Lab).
In the 2020 Spike Lee film, Da 5 Bloods, Olive is briefly mentioned during a conversation about portrayals of war in Hollywood, with the character Otis wishing for the portrayals of more black war heroes like Olive.
Medal of Honor citation
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Pfc. Olive was a member of the 3d Platoon of Company B, as it moved through the jungle to find the Viet Cong operating in the area. Although the platoon was subjected to a heavy volume of enemy gunfire and pinned down temporarily, it retaliated by assaulting the Viet Cong positions, causing the enemy to flee.
As the platoon pursued the insurgents, Pfc. Olive and 4 other soldiers were moving through the jungle together when a grenade was thrown into their midst. Pfc. Olive saw the grenade, and then saved the lives of his fellow soldiers at the sacrifice of his own by grabbing the grenade in his hand and falling on it to absorb the blast with his body.
Through his bravery, unhesitating actions, and complete disregard for his safety, he prevented additional loss of life or injury to the members of his platoon. Pfc. Olive's extraordinary heroism, at the cost of his life above and beyond the call of duty, are in the highest traditions of the U.S. Army and reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of his country.
November 7, 1946
October 22, 1965
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