The First African-American U.S. Marine Awarded the Medal of Honor
U.S. Marine Corps Pfc. James Anderson Jr. became the first African-American U.S. Marine to receive the nation’s highest honor. Anderson was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions on Feb. 28, 1967.
Anderson was born on Jan. 22, 1947 in Los Angeles, California. After graduating from high school, he attended Los Angeles Harbor Junior college for a year and a half before enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps in Compton, California in 1966.
Anderson received recruit training at the 1st Recruit Training Battalion, Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, California. After Anderson graduated from recruit training he was promoted to the rank of private first class. He would continue his training at Camp Pendleton, California before receiving orders to Vietnam.
Anderson was sent to Vietnam in December 1966. He was a rifleman assigned to the Company F, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division in the Quang Tri Province of Vietnam. He would give his life two months later.
On Feb. 28, 1967, his platoon was northwest of Cam Lo in an effort to extract a heavily besieged reconnaissance patrol, when they came under intense enemy small arms and automatic weapons fire. As the fire fight ensued, “an enemy grenade landed in the midst of the Marines and rolled along side Private First Class Anderson’s head.” With complete disregard for himself, Anderson “reached out, grasped the grenade, pulled it to his chest and curled around it as it went off.” Anderson received the brunt of the explosion. In a singular act of heroism and selflessness, the young Marine saved his comrades from severe injury and possible death.
Anderson had celebrated his 20th birthday one month prior.
According to the original Medal of Honor citation, his personal heroism, extraordinary valor, and inspirational supreme self-sacrifice reflected great credit upon himself and the Marine Corps and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.
The Medal of Honor was presented to Anderson’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. James Anderson, at the Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C. It was presented by Navy Secretary Paul Ignatius on August 21, 1968.
Today, a grateful nation remembers. Robert Lishey, who grew up in the same “Willowbrook” neighborhood as Anderson talks about how his hometown holds great respect for his sacrifice. “A park in Carson, CA is named in your honor,” he wrote in a Wall of Faces remembrance for Anderson.
The sacrifice of this young Marine is an example of heroism, camaraderie and devotion to country. He was hero with love for his brothers-in-arms. The story of Pfc. James Anderson shows that many are called to a life bigger than oneself and his legacy will live forever.