Saturday, June 02, 2012

TFH 6/2: SGT Cornelius H. Charlton, USA

Cornelius H. Charlton was born on July 24, 1929 in East Gulf, West Virginia. He spent his childhood in both West Virginia and The Bronx, New York. From an early age, he wanted to be a soldier, but his parents refused to let him drop out of high school to join the United States Army. After Charlton did graduate, he followed through and joined the Army, his parents signed his enlistment papers as he was still 17 at the time.

Charlton, an African American, first served on occupation duty in Germany then in an engineering unit stateside. He was on occupation duty on Okinawa when the Korean War erupted. Even though President Truman's Executive Order 9981 had ordered the desegregation of the military in July 1948, black soldiers were often assigned to either menial administrative duties or to de facto segregated units. In early 1951, Sergeant Charlton arrived at the 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment - one of the still-segregated Army formations with white officers - that was fighting as part of the 25th Infantry Division.

His ability and leadership skills soon became evident to his commanders. Quickly advancing from being a squad leader to the platoon sergeant, he took command of his platoon and led them in a successful attack against a defended ridgeline. The wounds he received during the attack cost him his life. His courage earned him our Nation's highest honor.

From Medal of Honor Citations for the Korean War:


Rank and organization: Sergeant, U.S. Army, Company C, 24th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division. Place and date: Near Chipo-ri, Korea, 2 June 1951. Entered service at: Bronx, N.Y. Born: 24 July 1929, East Gulf, W. Va. G.O. No.: 30, 19 March 1952. Citation: Sgt. Charlton, a member of Company C, distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action against the enemy. His platoon was attacking heavily defended hostile positions on commanding ground when the leader was wounded and evacuated. Sgt. Charlton assumed command, rallied the men, and spearheaded the assault against the hill. Personally eliminating 2 hostile positions and killing 6 of the enemy with his rifle fire and grenades, he continued up the slope until the unit suffered heavy casualties and became pinned down. Regrouping the men he led them forward only to be again hurled back by a shower of grenades. Despite a severe chest wound, Sgt. Charlton refused medical attention and led a third daring charge which carried to the crest of the ridge. Observing that the remaining emplacement which had retarded the advance was situated on the reverse slope, he charged it alone, was again hit by a grenade but raked the position with a devastating fire which eliminated it and routed the defenders. The wounds received during his daring exploits resulted in his death but his indomitable courage, superb leadership, and gallant self-sacrifice reflect the highest credit upon himself the infantry, and the military service.

In death, despite his heroism above and beyond the call of duty, he was still victimized by discrimination. The award of the Medal was delayed as some of the officers in his chain of command simply refused to endorse a black soldier for it. Posthumous recipients of the Medal of Honor are supposed to be offered interment at Arlington National Cemetery, but that offer wasn't made to Charlton's family.

He was originally buried in a segregated cemetery in West Virginia without any special honor. In 1989, the Army realized their discriminatory error and offered reburial at Arlington. Sergeant Charlton's family refused in protest. American Legion Post 32 offered to have him moved to their cemetery in Beckley, West Virginia. This offer the family accepted. His reinterment in the American Legion cemetery was conducted with full military honors.

On November 12, 2008, following the personal intercession of multiple living Medal of Honor recipients with the Army and Charlton's family, the brave platoon sergeant finally reached his rightful resting place among America's most honored at Arlington.

The 24th Infantry Regiment was disbanded on October 1, 1951 as the Army started acting on desegregation instead of paying lip service to it. The regimental lineage was reactivated in 1995. 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry is today part of the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team ("Arctic Wolves"), 25th Infantry Division at Fort Wainwright, Alaska.

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