A hero is a person who is endowed with great courage and strength; celebrated for his bold exploits.
In the fall of 2015, the Holmes Community College football team and college at large decided to honor a true American hero, Milton Olive III, with an endowed scholarship. Olive, who was the first African American to ever be awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor in the Vietnam War, sacrificed his life to save his platoon during a conflict in Vietnam. Although he was born in Chicago, Olive has strong ties to the community as he was reared in Holmes County near Ebenezer.
Robert Pool, a retired Holmes coach and administrator, is responsible for bringing Olive's legacy to light. Since retiring from the college, Pool has taken an interest in Vietnam War history and has read over 100 books on the war.
"Around 8-10 years ago, I picked up a book and start reading," Pool said. "I learned so much through reading those books that I met a ton of good people. You'd be surprised what you can learn by reading these books."
"He was a hardened combat veteran," Pool said of Olive. "He witnessed more death in that four months than most people see in a lifetime. Because of his makeup, he was respected by enlisted men and officers. He had a positive sense of humor which inspired other people around him."
Known by his fellow soldiers as "Preacher," Olive was often seen reading his well-worn Bible.
After learning more about Olive's story, Pool shared his findings with Holmes Head Football Coach Jeff Koonz and continued to research the war hero's life. A decision was made to make sure that Olive was never forgotten.
"We use the word hero all the time," Pool said. "Every day… every week. Have you ever looked up the definition? I hadn't either until this week. "Milton Lee Olive was a real American hero. When you are talking about medal of honors, those things are very, very rare."
According to Pool, from the early 60s to 1975, there were 2,709,918 military in-country in Vietnam and a total of 9,087,000 were on active duty. "Of that total number there were only 244 medal of honors given," Pool said, "Of that 244, 153 died performing that act of valor. I'm telling you that to tell you how important this is."
In May 1963, the U.S. Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade became the first major combat unit to arrive in Vietnam. As the Army's only action-ready unit in the Pacific at that time, it was only a matter of weeks before the "Sky Soldiers" of the 173rd encountered the enemy firsthand. Again and again, these soldiers would struggle to secure and keep the 60-square-mile area known as War Zone D.
Also known as the "Iron Triangle," this territory would be Pfc. Milton Lee Olive III's final battlefield. The quiet young man from Holmes County was, like so many of his fellows, already a hardened combat veteran at the age of 19.
Thus, the men of Company B's 3rd Platoon considered their Oct. 22, 1965, patrol near Phu Cuong routine. As they moved through jungle brush, they tried to spot Viet Cong operating in the area. At different times, they were under varying degrees of enemy fire, sometimes pinned down temporarily. Olive, by all accounts a good-humored, hardworking soldier, was constantly up front, exposing himself to enemy fire.
Olive and four others, including his platoon commander, were quietly and steadily pursuing one band of Viet Cong through the tangled growth. Suddenly, one of the enemy turned and threw a hand grenade into the middle of the platoon.
Olive dashed forward and grabbed the grenade. Yelling "I've got it," he tucked it into his middle and moved away from the others, falling on the grenade and absorbing the full blast.
"Knowing what it was going to do, he picked that grenade up and hit the ground," Pool said fighting back tears. "He saved those people, and it cost him his life. His lieutenant said it was the most incredible display of selfless bravery I've ever witnessed. Milton Lee Olive should never ever be forgotten."
Koonz said he and his staff didn't hesitate to do their part to make sure Olive's legacy was never forgotten. The college chose to honor his life through an endowed scholarship and through establishing the Milton Lee Olive III Courage and Character Award to be presented to a Holmes football player annually.
"The neat thing for us and for the legacy is that we are going to do this every year," Koonz said. "His legacy and story can be told on an annual basis. He didn't attend Holmes, but he grew up right down the road. One of Holmes County's true legacies should never be forgotten."
The first-ever Milton Olive Award was given to Jevante McAdory, a sophomore defensive lineman from French Camp, who was born with the use of just one of his arms. McAdory didn't let this keep him from excelling in the classroom and on the field.
"This young man inspires me on a daily basis," Koonz said. "He's mean, he's tough. What I love is that there was not a single day when he complained or made an excuse to not play football the way it's supposed to be played.
"His other arm, I sure don't want to get hit by it," he said. "He was a valuable member of our defensive line. He had a knack for batting down passes. So it's a great honor and pleasure, and I don't know of a more deserving young man than Jevante McAdory."
Pool expressed how privileged he felt to present the Milton Olive Award.
"This is without question the biggest honor I've ever had," Pool said. "First thing I want to tell is I'm not a veteran. I've got two or three regrets in my life and one of them is I'm not a veteran."
Proceeds from the Sept. 17 Military Appreciation Game at Grenada High School between Holmes and East Central Community College were used to help endow the Milton Olive Scholarship through the Holmes Community College Development Foundation, Inc.
Olive's legacy has been honored in various ways across the nation, as well.
In 1979, the city of Chicago recognized Olive by naming Olive Park on Lake Michigan in his honor Olive-Harvey College, one of the City Colleges of Chicago, is named after both Olive and fellow Medal of Honor recipient Carmel B. Harvey. The Milton L. Olive Middle School in Wyandanch, Long Island, New York, is also named in his honor. In 2007, a State Historical Marker was erected for Olive in Lexington. The dedication ceremonies included an address by the Adjutant General of the Mississippi National Guard. Additionally, Fort Campbell has a recreation facility named in Olive's honor, and a convention center has also been named for him.
Donations to the Milton Olive Scholarship can be sent to the Holmes CC Development Foundation, Inc., P.O. Box 527, Goodman, Miss., 39079.