Medal of Honor Monday: James Anderson, Jr.

PFC James Anderson, Jr., was the first Black Marine to be awarded the prestigious Medal of Honor.
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A composite photo of an American flag and James Anderson, JR.

Journey with us into the heroic narrative of Private First Class James Anderson, Jr., a figure of immense courage and selflessness. A member of the United States Marine Corps, Anderson fought valiantly in the Vietnam War. Adding to that, he left an indelible mark because he was the first African-American Marine to be awarded the prestigious Medal of Honor.

The birth of a hero

Anderson’s life was deeply influenced by faith. He was born into a devoutly religious family in Los Angeles, California, on January 22, 1947. He dreamt of a life in service to others, aspiring to become an inspirational minister. During his youth, he attended Belmont Baptist Church. For some time, he attended junior college with the intent of becoming a theologian.

But destiny had a different plan for him. As the Vietnam War intensified, Anderson exchanged his pursuit of theology for the call to serve his country. During boot camp, he showcased his potential. Then, after graduating, he quickly climbed the ranks to become Private First Class. Later, by the end of 1966, he was serving as a rifleman in the Vietnam War with Company F, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines, 3rd Marine division.

The test of valor

Anderson’s courage was truly tested in February 1967, during Operation Prairie II. With the North and South Vietnam demilitarization zone breached by the People’s Army of Vietnam, Anderson and his comrades found themselves in the thick of action.

On February 28th, Anderson’s unit received orders to aid a reconnaissance team under attack in the breach zone. As they made their way through the dense Vietnamese jungle, a storm of bullets greeted them before they could reach their comrades. Amidst the flurry of leaves, they took cover and retaliated.

The situation escalated quickly. An enemy grenade sailed through the air, landing dangerously close to Anderson. With no thought for his own safety, he reacted instantly, snatching the grenade and curling his body around it. His heroic act absorbed the majority of the blast, shielding his comrades from its lethal force. Despite being mortally wounded, Anderson’s sacrifice undoubtedly saved many lives that day.

The medal of honor and beyond

On August 21, 1968, a solemn ceremony at the Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C. marked the posthumous awarding of the Medal of Honor to Private First Class James Anderson, Jr. Secretary of the Navy Paul R. Ignatius personally presented the award to Anderson’s family, commemorating the hero who had made the ultimate sacrifice.

Anderson’s final resting place is at the Lincoln Memorial Park in Compton, California. His story remains a shining beacon of bravery and self-sacrifice, an inspiring testament to the indomitable spirit of an exceptional Marine.