Chicago soldier who saved 4 by falling on grenade to be honored
April 1, 2007
When he was just 18, Milton Lee Olive III joined the Army determined “to do something brave.”And he did — at the cost of his life.
Fighting in Vietnam in October 1965, the West Englewood native and four others were pursuing Viet Cong through the jungle when a grenade was tossed at them.
Olive, in a split-second decision that would save his comrades, grabbed the grenade and fell onto it, absorbing the explosion.
Already honored here with Olive-Harvey College and a park near Navy Pier, Olive will be remembered Saturday in Mississippi, where he spent much of his childhood.
A historical marker will be erected near the Milton L. Olive III Building, a government structure in Holmes County, Miss., said Jim Woodrick of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
Olive was born in Chicago in 1946 but moved to the small Mississippi town of Ebenezer to live with his grandparents, said Woodrick.
He attended school in Lexington, Miss., before heading back to Chicago where he enlisted as a paratrooper, said Woodrick. He is buried in Lexington’s West Grove Missionary Baptist Church cemetery.
The Holmes County NAACP and the Holmes County Freedom Democratic Party requested the aluminum marker, one of about 700 in the state, Woodrick said.
The Medal of Honor
For Olive’s sacrifice, President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded the Medal of Honor to him posthumously, making Olive the first Vietnam-era African American to win the military’s highest honor. During an April 1966 Rose Garden ceremony, Johnson said that “in dying, Private Milton Olive taught those of us who remain how we ought to live. . . . He put others first and himself last.”In a letter to Johnson, Olive’s father noted that many people asked why his son jumped on the grenade. The answer, the father said, was “too profound for mortal understanding.”
The father also wrote that he looked forward to the day that all people “will sit down together in the common purpose of good will and dedication.”