August 21, 1968: James Anderson, Jr., 1st African American Marine to Win Medal of Honor

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A Brief History

On August 21, 1968, the Medal of Honor, the highest military award for bravery and courage in battle that can be earned by an American fighting person, was awarded posthumously to James Anderson, Jr., the first African American US Marine to earn the Medal of Honor.

Digging Deeper

Anderson was born Los Angeles in 1947 when the US military was still segregated.  (The US military became desegregated per Executive Order 9981 on July 26, 1948 under President Truman.)  A high school graduate, James went on to study at junior college for a year and a half before enlisting in the US Marine Corps.

Assigned as a rifleman to 2nd Battalion 3rd Marine Regiment in Vietnam in December of 1966 as a Private First Class, James was in combat with his unit on February 28, 1967 at Quang Tri Province when a grenade was thrown by the enemy at James and his fellow Marines who had been clustered closely together when they were ambushed.  The Marines would have been mowed down by enemy fire if they had fled from the grenade, but Anderson grabbed the grenade and clutched it to his body, curling around it to take the blast himself and protect his comrades.  James died of his horrific injuries, but all the other Marines survived, some with minor shrapnel wounds.

For his heroism, James Anderson, Jr. was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously by President Lyndon B. Johnson, and became the first African American Marine so honored.  Anderson was further honored with a ship named after him, the USNS James Anderson, Jr. T-AK-3002, a pre-positioning ship.  A memorial park in Carson, California is named in his honor, as is Anderson Ave. in Compton, California.  After James Anderson’s feat of courage, an additional 4 African American US Marines were later awarded the Medal of Honor for service in the Vietnam War.

Although commonly called “The Congressional Medal of Honor,” the Medal of Honor is not actually named with “Congressional” in its title, although it is presented in “The Name of Congress,” usually by the President.

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Historical Evidence

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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.