MoH Recipient Jumps On Grenade to Save Marines in Vietnam

By Katie Lange
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

This blog is part of a weekly series called “Medal of Honor Monday,” in which we’ll highlight one of the nearly 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have earned the honor of wearing the U.S. military’s highest medal for valor.  

The next hero to be honored in our Medal of Honor Monday series gave the ultimate sacrifice for his country, and it happened nearly 50 years ago to the day of this posting.

Marine PFC James Anderson Jr.

Marine PFC James Anderson Jr.

James Anderson Jr. was born in Los Angeles, California, in January 1947. He went to a local junior college for a year and a half before he decided that his real calling was with the Marine Corps. Within a year of enlisting, the private first class was sent to Vietnam.

On Feb. 28, 1967, Anderson had just celebrated his 20th birthday and his one-year anniversary in the Marines when he was put to the ultimate test.

Anderson was serving as a rifleman in Company F, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, in the Quan Tri province on Vietnam’s central coast. He and his platoon were on a mission to rescue a heavily besieged reconnaissance patrol when they came upon heavy fire in dense jungle northwest of Cam Lo.

The platoon reacted quickly and began firing back. Anderson found himself on the ground in a tightly packed group of Marines within about 20 meters of the enemy, firing back on them.

Read More: African-Americans Who Broke Barriers
                        African-Americans in Vietnam

All of a sudden, a grenade landed within feet of Anderson’s head. Without hesitation, Anderson grabbed the grenade, pulled it into his chest and wrapped himself around it before it detonated.

Anderson’s body absorbed the blast. He was immediately killed. Thanks to his actions, though, the Marines around him survived with just minor injuries.

Most of us would never be able to understand that selflessness and self-sacrifice. Anderson’s extraordinary valor and the giving of his life to save the men around him can’t be overstated, and that’s why he received the Medal of Honor posthumously, Aug. 21, 1968. His parents accepted it for him.

USNS Pfc. James Anderson Jr.

USNS Pfc. James Anderson Jr.

Anderson was the first African-American Marine to receive the honor.

It wouldn’t be his last, either. In 1983, the U.S. Navy showed its appreciation for his gallantry by renaming a maritime prepositioning ship after him. The USNS Pfc. James Anderson Jr. was based in the Indian Ocean and carried equipment to support a Marine expeditionary brigade until 2009.

A park in Carson, California, was also named in his honor.

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