before the 24th IR was deactivated, though, 21-year-old Sgt.
Cornelius Charlton gave his last full measure of devotion to the
Charlton was raised in southern West Virginia, but
his family eventually moved to the Bronx, New York City. In 1946, he
graduated from high school there and immediately enlisted into the
Army, just at the end of World War II.
Charlton was initially
assigned to an engineering unit, but he requested and received a
transfer into Company C, an infantry unit that was part of the 24th
IR. He was one of the last of the “Buffalo Soldiers.”
Charlton earned his Medal of Honor during Operation Piledriver, a
major battle in Korea that was aimed at pushing North Korean and
Chinese troops out of the south.
On June 2, 1951, Charlton’s
platoon was attacking a hill that was heavily defended by Chinese
infantrymen and mortars near the village of Chipo-ri, northeast of
Seoul. His unit’s leader was injured and had to be evacuated, so
Charlton assumed command and rallied the troops to continue the
Using a rifle and grenades, Charlton managed to
destroy two hostile positions and kill six enemy soldiers before his
unit got pinned down on the hill they were attacking. He tried to
push the men forward, but they were driven back again by heavy
Charlton suffered a serious chest wound during
that time, but he wouldn’t give in. He refused medical attention and
instead led a third charge up the hill, which took them to the crest
of the ridge. The platoon then spotted the Chinese bunker that was
firing the mortars from the far side of the hill, so Charlton again
urged them forward to destroy it. He went ahead of the rest of the
soldiers and raked the position with bullets, destroying two Chinese
machine guns and forcing back its defenders. But he was hit by a
second grenade during the charge – an injury that proved fatal.
Charlton was credited with saving many of the soldiers in his
platoon. His courage, leadership and self-sacrifice earned him the
Medal of Honor, which he posthumously received in early 1952. He was
one of only two black men to receive the award for actions performed
during the Korean War.
Charlton also earned the Purple Heart,
the Korean Service Medal and many other citations during his
military career. But it took many years for him to get a proper
According to congressional records, Charlton’s body
was returned to the U.S. and buried in his mother’s family plot, not
at Arlington National Cemetery, where Medal of Honor recipients are
usually interred. There was some controversy over why that happened:
the Army said it was due to “administrative oversight,” but his
family believed it had to do with race.
Decades later, in
1990, Charlton’s remains were reinterred at the American Legion
Cemetery in Beckley, West Virginia. He was reinterred in 2008 to his
final resting place and appropriate location – Arlington National
Thank you, Sgt. Charlton, for your devotion to
cause and country!
Charlton's Medal of Honor Citation |
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