PRESENTATION CEREMONY AT THE WHITE HOUSE, APRIL 21, 1966.
President Johnson's Remarks Upon Awarding the Medal of Honor to Milton L. Olive III. Citation for Milton L.
Olive III read by Secretary of the Army Stanley R. Resor.
Mr. and Mrs. Olive, members of the Olive family, distinguished Mayor Daley, Secretary Resor, General
Wheeler, Members of the Senate, Members of the House, ladies and gentlemen,
There are occasions on which we take great pride, but little pleasure. This is one such occasion.
Words can never enlarge upon acts of heroism and duty, but this Nation will never forget Milton Lee
President Harry Truman once said that he would far rather have won the Medal of Honor than to have
been the President of the United States. I know what he meant. Those who have earned this decoration
are very few in number. But true courage is very rare. This honor we reserve for the most courageous
of all of our sons.
The Medal of Honor is awarded for acts of heroism above and beyond the call of duty. It is bestowed for
courage demonstrated not in blindly overlooking danger, but in meeting it with eyes clearly open.
And that is what Private Olive did. When the enemy's grenade landed on that jungle trail, it was not merely
duty which drove this young man to throw himself upon it, sacrificing his own life that his comrades might
continue to live. He was compelled by something that's more than duty, by something greater than a blind
reaction to forces that are beyond his control.
He was compelled, instead, by an instinct of loyalty which the brave always carry into conflict. And in that
incredibly brief moment of decision in which he decided to die, he put others first and himself last.
I have always believed that to be the hardest, but the highest, decision that any man is ever called upon
So in dying, Private Milton Olive taught those of us who remain how we ought to live.
I have never understood how men can ever glorify war. "The rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in
air," has always been for me better poetry than philosophy. When war is foisted upon us as a cruel
recourse by men who choose force to advance policy, and must, therefore, be resisted, only the irrational
or the callous, and only those untouched by the suffering that accompanies war, can revel.
So let us never exult over war. Let us not for one moment disguise in the grandest justifications of policy
the inescapable fact that war feeds on the lives of young men, good young men like Milton Olive. And I can never
forget it. I am reminded of it every moment of every day. And in a moment such as this, I am reminded all
over again how brave the young are, and how great is our debt to them, and how endless is the sacrifice
that we call upon them to make for us.
And I realize, too, how highly we prize freedom—when we send our young to die for it.
There are times when Vietnam must seem to many a thousand contradictions, and the pursuit of freedom there an
almost unrealizable dream.
But there are also times—and for me this is one of them—when the mist of confusion lifts and the
basic principles emerge:
Men like Milton Olive die for honor. Nations that are without honor die too, but without purpose and
without cause. And it must never be said that when the freedom and the independence of a new and a struggling
people were at stake that this mighty, powerful Nation of which we are so proud to be citizens would ever turn
aside because we had the harassments that always go with conflict, and because some thought the outcome
was uncertain, or the course too steep, or the cost too high.
- That South Vietnam, however young and frail, has the right to develop as a nation, free from the
interference of any other power, no matter how mighty or strong;
- That the normal processes of political action, if given time and patience and freedom to work, will
some day, some way create in South Vietnam a society that is responsible to the people and consistent with
- That aggression by invading armies or ruthless insurgency must be denied the precedent of success in
Vietnam, if the many other little nations in the world, and if, as a matter of fact, all Southeast Asia
is to ever know genuine order and unexploited change;
- That the United States of America is in South Vietnam to resist that aggression and to permit that
peaceful change to work its way, because we desire only to be a good and honorable ally, a dependable,
trustworthy friend, and always a sincere and genuine servant of peace.
In all of this there is irony, as there is when any young man dies. Who can say what words Private Olive
might have chosen to explain what he did? Jimmy Stanford and John Foster, two of the men whose lives
he saved that day on that lonely trail in that hostile jungle 10,000 miles from here are standing on
the White House steps today because this man chose to die. I doubt that even they know what was on his
mind as he jumped and fell across that grenade.
But I think I do know this: On the sacrifices of men who died for their country and their comrades,
our freedom has been built. Whatever it is that we call civilization rests upon the merciless and
seemingly irrational fact of history that some have died for others to live, and every one of us who
enjoys freedom at this moment should be a witness to that fact.
So Milton Olive died in the service of a country that he loved, and he died that the men who fought at his
side might continue to live. For that sacrifice his Nation honors him today with its highest possible
He is the eighth Negro American to receive this Nation's highest award. Fortunately, it will be more
difficult for future presidents to say how many Negroes have received the Medal of Honor. For unlike the
other seven, Private Olive's military records have never carried the color of his skin or his racial origin,
only the testimony that he was a good and loyal citizen of the United States of America.
So I can think of no more fitting tribute to him than to read from a letter that was written to me by this
patriot's father, dated March the 10th. And I quote:
"It is our dream and prayer that some day the Asiatics, and the Europeans, and the Israelites, and the Africans,
and the Australians, and the Latins, and the Americans can all live in one world. It is our hope that in our own
country the Klansmen and the Negroes, the Hebrews and the Catholics will sit down together in the common
purpose of good will and dedication; that the moral and creative intelligence of our united people will pick
up the chalice of wisdom and place it upon the mountain top of human integrity; that all mankind, from all
the earth, shall resolve, 'to study war no more.' That, Mr. President, is how I feel and that is my eternal
hope for our Great American Society."
And ladies and gentlemen, I have no words to add to that.
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, March 3, 1863, has awarded in
the name of The Congress the Medal of Honor, posthumously, to Private First Class Milton L. Olive, III
United States Army for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond
the call of duty.
Private First Class Milton L. Olive, III, distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at
the risk of his own life above and beyond the call of duty while participating in a search and destroy
operation in the vicinity of Phu Cuong, Republic of Vietnam, on 22 October 1965. Private Olive was a member
of the 3d Platoon of Company B, 2d Battalion (Airborne), 503d Infantry, as it moved through the jungle to
find the Viet Cong operating in the area. Although the Platoon was subjected to a heavy volume of enemy
gun fire and pinned down temporarily, it retaliated by assaulting the Viet Cong positions, causing the
enemy to flee. As the Platoon pursued the insurgents, Private Olive and four other soldiers were moving
through the jungle together when a grenade was thrown into their midst. Private Olive saw the grenade, and
then saved the lives of his fellow soldiers at the sacrifice of his own by grabbing the grenade in his hand
and failing on it to absorb the blast with his body. Through his bravery, unhesitating actions, and complete
disregard for his own safety, he prevented additional loss of life or injury to the members of his platoon.
Private Olive's conspicuous gallantry, extraordinary heroism, and intrepidity at the risk of his own life
above and beyond the call of duty are in the highest traditions of the United States Army and reflect great
credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of his country.
The text of the letter to the President from Milton B. Olive, Jr., made public by the White House on April
Chicago's Fifth Army Headquarters has informed us that the Congressional Medal of Honor is to be awarded
posthumously to our son, P.F.C. Milton Lee Olive.
This welcome news brought renewed encouragement to heavy hearts and somber spirits. It also overwhelmed
us with the greatest pride and the deepest humility.
Many people and news reporters have asked why he did it. How do you feel? Across six thousand years of
recorded history, man has pondered the inevitable. The conclusion is, it is too profound for mortal
understanding. Perhaps, you too, Mr. President, and the American people would like to know how I feel.
I have had to use strength, taken from the courage of a brave soldier to be able to bear a heavy cross.
I suppose that Divine Providence willed it and that nothing could be more glorious than laying down your
life for your fellowman in the defense of your country.
Our only child and only grandchild gave his last full measure of devotion on an international battle field
10,000 miles from home. It is our dream and prayer that some day the Asiatics, the Europeans, the Israelites,
the Africans, the Australians, the Latins, and the Americans can all live in one world. It is our hope
that in our own country the Klansmen, the Negroes, the Hebrews, and the Catholics will sit down together
in the common purpose of good will and dedication; that the moral and creative intelligence of our united
people will pick up the chalice of wisdom and place it upon the mountain top of human integrity; that all
mankind, from all the earth, shall resolve, 'to study war no more.' That, Mr. President, is how I feel
and that is my eternal hope for our Great American Society.
Your life of dedicated service is a reflection of Humanity at its best. May we wish for you longevity
and civilization's greatest blessing.
Milton B. Olive, Jr.