Milton Oliver, III was the first Black recipient of the National Medal of Honor by way of his actions in the Vietnam War. Oliver, just 18 at the time, saved four of his fellow soldiers from a live grenade by smothering the enemy weapon with his body.
Olive was born November 7, 1946 in Chicago, Illinois while also living at times in Lexington, Ill. Skip, or Skipper, as his family called him, lost his mother shortly after she gave birth. In 1964, Olive joined the Army in Chicago and was a Private First Class with the Company B of the 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade.
On October 22, 1965, Olive and four soldiers from the 2nd were walking in a jungle in Vietnam when an enemy grenade was tossed their way. Olive swiftly acted by smothering the weapon with his body, sparing the lives of his comrades.
On April 21, 1966, Olive was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Lyndon B. Johnson. At the time, Olive was just the eighth Black solider to win the nation’s highest military honor. President Johnson noted in his speech that Olive’s race would be removed from the records, not because of a lack of recognition, but more so that the testimony to his service to the country stand as the most paramount thing.
In attendance at the White House event was Olive’s family and two of the men he saved on that fateful day. That same year Olive was posthumously awarded, a plaque and park was dedicated to the solider.
The city of Chicago honored Olive by naming Olive Park on Lake Michigan after him in 1979. A historical marker was constructed in Lexington, Miss. for Olive in 2007 as well.