Remarks Upon Presenting the Medal of Honor (Posthumous) to the Father of Milton L. Olive III
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 Olive III.
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.
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 is 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. 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 to make.
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.
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. I can never forget it. I am reminded of it every moment of every day. 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.
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:
--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 responsive to the people and consistent with their traditions;
--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.
Men like Milton Olive die for honor. Nations that are without honor die, too, but without purpose and without cause. It must never be said that when the freedom and the independence of a new and a struggling people were at stake 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.
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 award.
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 10.
"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."
Ladies and gentlemen, I have no words to add to that.
[Secretary of the Army Stanley R. Resor read the citation, the text of which follows.]
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.
LYNDON B. JOHNSON
Note: The President spoke at 12:15 p.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. In his opening words he referred to Mr. and Mrs. Milton B. Olive, Jr., of Chicago, Ill., father and stepmother of Private Olive, Richard J. Daley, Mayor of Chicago, Stanley R. Resor, Secretary of the Army, and Gen. Earle G. Wheeler, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. During his remarks he referred to Lt. James B. Stanford, Private Olive's company commander, and Specialist 4 John W. Foster, two of the four men whose lives were saved.
The text of the letter to the President from Milton B. Olive, Jr., made public by the White House on April 21, follows:
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.
The text of the President's telegram to Milton B. Olive, Jr., inviting him and other members of his family to the ceremony, is printed in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (vol. a, p. 554).
Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks Upon Presenting the Medal of Honor (Posthumous) to the Father of Milton L. Olive III Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/239295