Selfless Act Transforms Young Veteran into a Battlefield Legend

Army Pfc. Milton Lee Olive III.
Army Pfc. Milton Lee Olive III. (U.S. Army photo)

In May 1963, the U.S. Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade became the first major combat unit to arrive in Vietnam. As the Army's only action-ready unit in the Pacific at that time, it was only a matter of weeks before the "Sky Soldiers" of the 173rd encountered the enemy firsthand. Again and again, these soldiers struggled to secure and keep the 60-square-mile area known as War Zone D.

Also known as the "Iron Triangle," this territory would be Pfc. Milton Lee Olive III's final battlefield. The quiet young man from Chicago's South Side was, like so many of his fellows, already a hardened combat veteran at the age of 19.

Thus, the men of Company B's 3rd Platoon considered their Oct. 22, 1965, patrol near Phu Cuong routine. As they moved through jungle brush, they tried to spot Viet Cong operating in the area. At different times, they were under varying degrees of enemy fire, sometimes pinned down temporarily. Olive, by all accounts a good-humored, hard-working soldier, was constantly up front, exposing himself to enemy fire.

Olive and four others, including his platoon commander, were quietly and steadily pursuing one band of Viet Cong through the tangled growth. Suddenly, one of the enemy turned and threw a hand grenade into the middle of the platoon.

Olive dashed forward and grabbed the grenade. Yelling "I've got it," he tucked it into his middle and moved away from the others, falling on the grenade and absorbing the full blast.

"It was the most incredible display of selfless bravery I ever witnessed," the platoon commander later told a journalist.

Olive's sacrifice saved his comrades' lives. In his death, he has become an inspiration to many of his fellow Chicagoans, who have further commemorated this Medal of Honor winner's life and courage by naming a junior college, a park and a portion of the McCormick Place Convention Center after the young Black soldier.

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