Members of the Holmes Community College football team continued their commitment to Vietnam War hero Milton Olive III last week by visiting his grave site on Lexington-Ebenezer Road.
Team members, along with Head Coach Jeff Koonz, took a lawnmower along with shovels and rakes and cleaned up the burial plot of Olive and his family. The team learned about Olive's heroism early last fall and have pledged to do their part to keep Olive's legacy alive. They placed a wreath saying "Never Forgotten" and a military marker at Olive's grave.
Olive, who was born in Chicago but reared near Ebenezer, and members of Company B's 3rd Platoon were on patrol on Oct. 22, 1965 near Phu Cuong. As they moved through jungle brush, they tried to spot Viet Cong operating in the area and at different times, they were under varying degrees of enemy fire, sometimes pinned down temporarily, and Olive was at the 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, picked up the grenade and landed on it keeping the blast away from his fellow soldiers.
Former Holmes Head Coach Robert Pool, an avid reader of Vietnam War books, informed Coach Koonz of Olive's exploits and Koonz and team decided to do their part to keep Olive's legacy alive. The team held a Military Appreciation Game in the fall with proceeds going to an Olive Scholarship, and they also created the Milton Lee Olive Courage and Character Award which is given to the scholarship recipient.
"This area Ebenezer is 10-12 minutes from our campus," Koonz said. "He's a big-time war hero. He gave up his life for his country and lived right down the road. It's amazing that we had such a hero in our own back yard.
"We've adopted Milton Lee Olive as an inspiration to us," he said. "It's a life lesson for these players. He's a national hero, and hopefully we can make sure what he's done is never forgotten. If we can do anything close to emulate what Milton Lee Olive did then we've taught a valuable lesson. The kids have bought in and understand what he was about. The strange thing is he never went to Holmes. He inspires us with what he's done and we want to keep his legacy alive."
"He's a real inspiration not only to me as a man but as a Christian," Holmes freshman offensive lineman Austin Killion of Cleveland said. "What I understand was that he was a devout Christian, and he did his duty by serving others.
"It shows the unity he thought of when it comes to races," he said. "I'm sure there were both black and white people in the area he was working with. He didn't dive on it for the black people, but he dove on it for both. It's kind of like what Jesus did for us. I respect him for standing up for Christ. We've adopted him as part of this team. I just and hope pray his legacy lives on through us and we make him proud."
Ramone Reed, a freshman defensive end from Flora, agreed that it's definitely an honor to be a part of keeping Olive's legacy alive. "To do what he did to sacrifice his life for others encouraged me to keep the courage," Reed said. "It makes me want to be there for other people and help lift them up. It's not always about you.
"It helps to know what character and courage are all about," he said. "It's not about individual but others as well. He encouraged me to keep going. The Bible talks about that we should be bold as a lion. That exemplifies what the Bible talks about and that's all an awesome thing."
Contributions to the Milton Lee Olive III Scholarship Fund can be sent to the Holmes Community College Development Foundation, Inc. at P.O. Box 527, Goodman, MS 39079.