How far would you go in the name of camaraderie? Rather than answering through words, Medal of Honor recipient Pfc Milton Lee Olive has shown it through his action—by literally throwing himself into a grenade if it meant for his comrades to live through another day.

A Young Veteran

Olive was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, in mid-fall 1946. He’d spend a couple of years with his grandparents in Lexington, Mississippi, before returning to his hometown, where he’d enlist in the US Army in 1964 at the height of the Vietnam War.

He was deployed overseas under the 173d Airborne Brigade, the first major combat unit to arrive on the hostile grounds of Ho Chi Minh, and immediately became a hardened soldier way before turning 18.

As the Army’s only combat-ready unit in the Pacific at the time, it was only a matter of weeks before the 173rd’s “Sky Soldiers” came face to face with the enemy. Soldiers were trying to secure and secure the 60-square-mile area known as War Zone D, but Viet Congs kept pouring in, infiltrating the parameter again and again.

Vietnam War Zone D
US Army map indicating War Zones C, D, and the Iron Triangle, circa 1965-1967. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

Described by his fellow soldiers as a quiet young man, Olive was among the men who attempted to advance into what they called the “Iron Triangle” territory to find and capture a band of Viet Cong on October 22, 1965. It was an intense cat-and-mouse chase, leading the platoon deep into the thick jungle and, at one point, pinned down temporarily due to heavy fire. Olive and his four comrades, including his platoon commander, were pursuing the insurgents when a grenade was thrown into their path.

Without hesitating, Olive ran towards the grenade and grabbed it before yelling, “I’ve got it,” tucking it into his body to absorb as much impact as possible to spare his fellow soldiers from the blast. He died just two weeks before his 19th birthday.

His platoon leader told reporters later how “[i]t was the most incredible display of selfless bravery I ever witnessed.”

The selflessness and sacrifice of the young veteran didn’t go unnoticed as he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, with his father and stepmother receiving it on his behalf on April 21, 1966, presented to them by President Lyndon B. Johnson. It’s worth noting that Olive also became the first African-American to receive the highest valor award of the Vietnam War. Below is the official citation: