Stories of America's Greatest Heroes

Ken Harbaugh tells the stories of service members who have distinguished themselves through an act of valor. These stories feature recipients from the Civil War to present day, including a few who were originally overlooked for the medal.

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Milton Olive

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PFC Olive earned the Medal of Honor for his selfless act of bravery in Vietnam. At only 18 years old, he sacrificed his own life to save four of his fellow soldiers. He was the first Black soldier to receive the Medal of Honor during Vietnam.

PFC Olive also earned a mention in the recent Spike Lee film, Da 5 Bloods - the character Otis says, "I would be the first cat in line if there was a film about a real hero, you know, one of our blood. Somebody like Milton Olive."

Learn more about PFC Olive here:

Welcome to the Medal of Honor podcast, brought to you in partnership with the National Medal of Honor Museum. I’m Ken Harbaugh. In each episode, we’ll learn about a different service member who has distinguished him or herself through an act of valor.

If you’re a fan of filmmaker Spike Lee, you might have heard of Milton Olive. In the movie Da 5 Bloods, which came out earlier this summer, he’s referred to as “a real hero”.

Milton Olive III was born in 1946 on the south side of Chicago.

He moved to his grandparents’ farm in Lexington, Mississippi for high school. During his sophomore year, he joined the Mississippi Freedom School, teaching other black students about their voting rights, and the Mississippi Summer Project, helping to register black voters.

But violence against the black community in Mississippi caused Milton’s grandmother to send him back north to Chicago. Not all of his high school credits from Mississippi would transfer though, so, rather than repeating his whole sophomore year, Milton dropped out. On his 18th birthday, he enlisted in the army.

Private First Class Olive shipped out to Vietnam in 1965 with the 173rd Airborne Brigade. His quiet personality earned him the nickname “Preacher” by his platoon.

That platoon was led by Lieutenant Jimmy Stanford, a Texan who was uncomfortable, by his own admission, leading an integrated unit.

On October 22, 1965, PFC Olive’s unit entered dense jungle near Saigon by helicopter. They faced heavy enemy fire but fought back, forcing the Viet Cong attackers to retreat.

Olive’s platoon gave chase, but Olive, Lt. Stanford, and three other soldiers ran into an ambush.

A grenade flew into their midst. Olive yelled “Look out, lieutenant, grenade!” He dove on top of it, absorbing the blast with his own body..

Lieutenant Stanford, the same man who was unhappy leading a unit that included black soldiers, called PFC’s Olive’s action “the most incredible display of selfless bravery [he] ever witnessed”.

Milton Olive was the first black recipient of the Medal of Honor during Vietnam.

The Medal of Honor podcast is a production of Evergreen Podcasts. We are proud to support the National Medal of Honor Museum. To learn more, and to support their mission, go to mohmuseum.org. Thanks for listening.

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