By Chinta Strausberg
Retired Army Capt. Jimmy B. Stanford Wednesday said every day is Memorial Day to him thanks to Milton Lee Olive III who during a search and destroy mission in Vietnam nearly 46-years ago spotted a live grenade, placed it on his stomach and allowed it to explode.
In that selfless moment, Olive, who was 16-days shy of his 19th birthday, saved the lives of four comrades â€“two African Americans and two whites. Nicknamed â€œSkipperâ€ by his family, Olive was born and raised in the Englewood community of Chicago and born an unusual birth was seemingly destined for greatness and death.
Reached at his Texas home, Stanford, who was one of the four men young Olive saved, said, â€œI will never forget that day. I donâ€™t know why Skipper did what he did, and I often wonder why Iâ€™m alive today. Why meâ€? he asked.
â€œEvery day is Memorial Day to me. Every day I give recognition to those who have gone before us and who have given their all like Skipper who gave his life for me. I think about this every day,â€ Stanford said. â€œHe paid the ultimate price, his life and for that I am so grateful,â€ he said.
â€œBecause of what Skipper did, today am the father of two, grandfather of nine and the great grandfather of six,â€ a grateful Stanford said. â€œItâ€™s a wonderful feeling to live this long and to be able to enjoy it. I think about what Skipper did and all of these people who have gone before us.â€
Asked what would he say to Skipper if he were alive today, Stanford chuckled and said, â€œIf Skipper were alive today, Iâ€™d say to him letâ€™s argue religion. I found out later that was one of Skipperâ€™s favorite past times. He would engage his platoon in a religious debate,â€ he said of Olive who was the first African American to have received a Congressional Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War.
â€œItâ€™s a wonderful feeling to live this long and to be able to enjoy it,â€ Stanford said.
Stanford is one of two survivors of that October 22, 1965 mishap. The other living survivor is Sgt. Vince Yrineo who is now in a nursing home in Washington State. Deceased are the two African Americans, John Foster and Lionell Hubbard.
Charlie Carter, a cousin of Olive and who grew up in the same home, said, â€œSkipper was not a racist. He believed in the American flag, and he believed in God.â€
A Korean veteran, Carter added, â€œI never disapproved of Skipper going into the Army because I believe in that and I thought he had made the right decision. â€
Referring to the moment Skipper saw that live grenade, Carter said, â€œYou never know what you would do in the same situation. Yes, I was surprised that Skipper grabbed that grenade and allowed it to explode. Skipper was a quiet and soft-spoken person and that is the kind of person you have to watch because itâ€™s hard to meet a man like that. He did what he had to do.â€
Young Olive was the son of Milton B. Olive II and Clara who gave birth to their only child on November 7, 1946. Skipper was a breech baby, which resulted in the death of Mrs. Olive.
From birth, young Olive was nicknamed â€œSkipperâ€ by my paternal grandmother, Zelphia Wareagle Spencer, who was related to Skipperâ€™s father. She and her husband, Jacob Augustus Spencer, raised Skipper in their Englewood home.
When Skipper was in high school, he was not academically challenged and after his father remarried, Chicago Public School teacher Antoinette Mainor, he left home. When his father found that Skipper had gone to Lexington, Mississippi to his parents home, he gave his son three choices: go back to school, get a job or join the military.
His father was shocked and alarmed to learn that his son had joined the Mississippi Voter Registration campaign. He feared the KKK would kill his son. So, he ordered his son to make a decision and to immediately come back home.
Knowing his father meant business, Skipper made a decision and without hesitation joined the Army where he became a paratrooper. Due to an injury as a result of a heroic act, he received a Purple Heart, but he told his father he had to go back and â€œfinish my job.â€ On October 22, 1965 during that search and destroy mission in Vietnam, Skipper willingly and unselfishly paid the ultimate priceâ€”his life.
During a White House ceremony on April 21, 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson bestowed the Congressional Medal of Honor to the Olive family. Referring to the moment Skipper spotted the live grenade knowing four of his comrades were directly behind him, President Johnson said, â€œHe was compelled, instead, by an instinct of loyalty which the brave always carry into conflict.
â€œAnd in that incredible 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,â€ Johnson said.
â€œSo in dying, Private Milton Olive taught those of us who remain how we ought to live.â€
Stanford knows this all too well and wonders all the time â€œwhy am I still hereâ€?
Chinta Strausberg is a Journalist of more than 33-years, a former political reporter and a current PCC Network talk show host.