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Family honors Pfc. Milton Lee Olive, who made ultimate sacrifice while saving 4 others in Vietnam

Ceremony honors fallen Pfc. Milton Lee Olive
Ceremony honors fallen Pfc. Milton Lee Olive 00:44

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Veterans this Memorial Day paid tribute to Milton Lee Olive III, the first African American soldier to receive the Medal of Honor for his sacrifice during the Vietnam War.

Olive also received posthumous a Purple Heart for his service.

Olive was born Nov. 7, 1946, to Milton B. Olive II and Clara Olive. His mother died shortly after he was born, and he was raised in the Englewood neighborhood by his aunt, Zylphia Wareagle Spencer, and her husband, Jacob Spencer.

Olive, known as Skipper to his family, attended Nikolaus Copernicus School in Englewood and a nearby Catholic school, a news release noted.

Years later, Olive's father – a professional photographer and supervisor for the Chicago Human Resources Department – married Chicago Public Schools teacher Antoinette Mainor, the release noted. Olive lived with his grandparents in Lexington, Mississippi, and went back and forth between there and Chicago until his father joined the Mississippi Freedom voter registration drive, the release said.

By then, it was coming upon 10 years since the kidnapping and brutal murder of 14-year-old Black Chicagoan Emmett Till in Mississippi, and Olive's father was worried the same could happen to his son in that state. The senior Olive asked his son to go back to school, get a job, or join the military – and Olive chose the last option.

Olive joined the U.S. Army in 1964.

MOH Winner PFC Milton L Olive
Portrait of Private First Class Milton Lee Olive III (1946 - 1965) of the 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, Phu Cuong, South Vietnam, October 22, 1965. He became the first African-American Medal of Honor winner of the Vietnam War for 'conspicuous gallantry' in sacrificing his life to save others by smothering an enemy grenade with his own body. US Army/PhotoQuest/Getty Images

Pfc. Olive was a member of the 3rd Platoon of Company B as it made its way through the jungle in Phu Cuong, Vietnam on Oct. 22, 1965, to find the Viet Cong operating in the area. A heavy volume of gunfire was aimed at the platoon, but it retaliated by assaulting the Viet Cong positions and prompting the enemy to flee, according to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.

While pursuing the Viet Cong, Olive and four other soldiers moving through the jungle were targeted with a grenade. Olive saw the grenade and took it in his hand.

"He spotted a live grenade, and he grabbed it, and put it under his stomach and allowed it to explode," said Olive's cousin, Chinta Strausberg. "He saved the lives of four men."

Olive would have turned 19 just over two weeks later.

The ceremony for Olive was held at Milton Lee Olive Park, at Ohio Street and DuSable Lake Shore Drive just west of the Jardine Water Filtration Plant – which in turn is just north of Navy Pier. It features a grove of honey locust trees along the waterline and five circular fountains of different circumferences.

Milton Lee Olive Park was dedicated to Pfc. Olive on June 19, 1966.

At the ceremony Tuesday, Olive's family urged people not to forget the sacrifices made for freedom.

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