When I close my eyes and think of all of the graves of our beloved U.S. soldiers who literally gave their lives to protect Americanâ€™s soil, I cry and thank them forpaying the ultimate sacrificeâ€”a sacrifice that continues even today.
According to the Pritzker Military Library in Chicago, there were 58,220, U.S. combat deaths including diseases and accidents during the Vietnam War which included my cousin, Milton Lee Olive III, who was 16-days shy of reaching his 19thbirthday.
Skipper, as my family called him, was born on November 7, 1946 to my uncle, Milton B.Olive II, a supervisor with the City of Chicagoâ€™s Human Services Department and who was also a professional photographer and civil rights activist, and his wife, Clara, who died giving birth to Skipper who was a breech baby.
My paternal grandparents, Jacob Augustus and Zylphiawareagle Spencer, raised Uncle Miltonâ€™s son with my grandmother nicknaming him â€œSkipper.â€ Uncle Milton bought a building at 6012 So. Loomis where my grandparents lived on the first floor. Skipper always thought of my grandparents as his parents.
Years later, Uncle Milton married Chicago Public School teacher Antoinette Mainor, who like my uncle, is now deceased. Skipper was not challenged at school, grewr estless and ran away to Lexington, Mississippi to be with his dadâ€™s parents.
Well, when Uncle Milton found out where he was alarmed because that was in the area where Emmett Till was murdered by white men who claimed he was whistling at oneof the wives.
Uncle Milton feared his son would be killed as well especially since he learned that Skipper had signed up with one of the Freedom voter registration groups. No one knows why Skipper did that since no one I know in my family was involved in theregistering of blacks in the South.
So, my uncle Milton gave his son an ultimatum: get a job, go back to school or jointhe military. The rest is history.
When the Army soldiers came knocking on my grandmotherâ€™s door and gave her the bad news, she refused to go outside her home for weeks. Skipper was like a son toher, and to add insult to injury, the cookies he had asked her to bake and sendto him, was returned the next day.
Yes, Skipper saw a live grenade during that search and destroy mission in Vietnam. Yes, he grabbed the device, placed it on his stomach saving the lives of four of his comrades who were behind himâ€”his friends, John â€œhopâ€ Foster, Lionel Hubbard, both African American who have since passed, Sgt. Vince Yrineo and Captain James Stanford who are still living.
Fo rhis valor, this young Englewood-born teenager was the first African American to have received a Congressional Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War. Posthumously, he also received a second Purple Heart for his unselfish andheroic acts.
So, I ask you to go and visit Olive Park, 500 North Lake Shore Drive, named after Skipper and to remember Olive/Harvey College also named after him. Â Remember and thank all soldiers livingand dead for their personal sacrifices and to advocate on their behalf.
I would also like to thank the late Bishop Louis Ford for convincing the lateMayor Richard J. Daley to name Olive/Harvey College after Skipper. Back then, there were those opposed to naming a junior college after a black man,according to his grandson, Elder Kevin Anthony Ford. They compromised and shared a name with Camel B. Harvey, a white who also received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his acts of bravery.
I ask you what my Uncle Milton made me promise to never forget what his only son,his only child did for this country and to share Uncleâ€™s dream in his own words:
“It is ourdream and prayer that some day Asiatics, Europeans, Israelites, Africans,Australians, the Latinâ€™s and Americans can live in one world.
“It is our hope thatin our own country, the Klansmen and Negroes, Hebrews and Catholics will sitdown together in the common purpose of good will and dedication that the moraland creative intelligence of our united people will enable us to pick up thechalice of wisdom and place it upon the mountaintop of integrity; that allmankind from all the earth shall resolve to study war no more.”
Last year, a high-ranking retired military officer said someone in the mayorâ€™soffice told him that I was a â€œradical.â€ I am still stunned by that accusationespecially since I donâ€™t know anyone in the mayorâ€™s office. Â I am a radical for Christ and if callingfor equity for soldiers like housing for the homeless and health care for veterans is being a radical, then label me with that honor.
I thank all veterans of wars for their personal sacrifice. I pray for the families of the deceased, and I pray that this nation will soon open its heart and free its budgets and adequately fund veterans programs so when they comeback home they will have a place to stay.Â They can go back to school, and they will get the health care they so justly deserve. Now, if thatâ€™s being a radical so be it.
Yes, Skipper was born an unusual birth, and he died and on October 22, 1965 during a search and destroy mission in Vietnam, he died a very unusual death, but it is not surprising since he loved his country so very much. He told my family when he was hurt the first time when he was presented with his first Purple Heart that he had to go back â€œand finish my job.â€ He did just that and in a way not many men would have chosen. He paid the ultimate price for his beliefs and his love for his country and fellow man.
Because of his bravery all of the four survivors have grandchildren today, and the love he showed his comrades continues to live generation after generation.
Happy Memorial Day to all veterans and may you and this nation find peace in the near futureâ€¦in our life time…peace for our troubled children, and may you find and receive the resources you need to readjust and blend in without the worries of housing and health care. We owe you that much and more.
Chinta Strausberg is a Journalist of more than 33-years, a former political reporter and a current PCC Network talk show host. You can e-mail Strausberg at: Chintabernie@aol.com.