Private First Class James Anderson Jr. (22 January 1947 to 28 February 1967) was a United States Marine who posthumously received the Medal of Honour for heroism while serving in Vietnam in February 1967.
When his Medal of Honour was awarded on 21 August 1968, he became the first African-American US Marine recipient of the Medal of Honour.
Joining the US Marine Corps in 1966, Anderson took part in Operation Prairie II. During this operation, Anderson’s platoon was advancing through the jungle near Cam Lo Combat Base when they were ambushed by North Vietnamese forces. Anderson jumped on a grenade thrown by a Vietnamese soldier and was killed in action. This action saved other Marines’ lives, and Anderson was awarded the Medal of Honour posthumously for his deed.
Anderson was born on 22 January 1947, in Los Angeles, California. After graduating from senior high school, he attended Los Angeles Harbour Junior College for a year and a half.
Private Anderson left college to enlist in the United States Marine Corps on 17 February 1966 and received recruit training with the 1st Recruit Training Battalion, Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, California. He was promoted to private first class upon graduation from recruit training in August 1966. He then transferred to Camp Pendleton, California where he received further training with the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Training Regiment.
In December 1966, Private First Class Anderson arrived in the Republic of Vietnam, where he served as a rifleman with Company F, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines, 3rd Marine Division in Quang Tri Province. On 28 February 1967, during Operation Prairie II he was killed when he covered a grenade with his body to save his teammates.
Private First Class Anderson was interred at Lincoln Memorial Park in Carson, California (Plot L-6).
A complete list of his medals and decorations includes:
- Medal of Honour;
- Purple Heart;
- National Defence Service Medal;
- Vietnam Service Medal with one bronze star;
- Vietnamese Military Merit Medal;
- Vietnamese Gallantry Cross with Palm; and
- Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal.
Medal of Honour Citation
The President of the United States takes pride in presenting the MEDAL OF HONOR posthumously to
PRIVATE FIRST CLASS JAMES ANDERSON JR.
UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS
for service as set forth in the following CITATION:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as a rifleman, Second Platoon, Company F, Second Battalion, Third Marines, Third Marine Division, in Vietnam on 28 February 1967. Company F was advancing in dense jungle northwest of Cam Lộ in an effort to extract a heavily besieged reconnaissance patrol. Private First Class Anderson’s platoon was the lead element and had advanced only about 200 meters when they were brought under extremely intense enemy small arms and automatic weapons fire. The platoon reacted swiftly, getting on line as best they could in the thick terrain, and began returning fire. Private First Class Anderson found himself tightly bunched together with the other members of the platoon only 20 meters from the enemy positions. As the fire fight continued several of the men were wounded by the deadly enemy assault. Suddenly, an enemy grenade landed in the midst of the Marines and rolled alongside Private First Class Anderson’s head. Unhesitatingly and with complete disregard for his own personal safety, he reached out, grasped the grenade, pulled it to his chest and curled around it as it went off. Although several Marines received shrapnel from the grenade, his body absorbed the major force of the explosion. In this singularly heroic act, Private First Class Anderson saved his comrades from serious injury and possible death. His personal heroism, extraordinary valor, and inspirational supreme self-sacrifice reflected great credit upon himself and the Marine Corps and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.
/S/ LYNDON B. JOHNSON
The United States Navy prepositioning ship, MV PFC James Anderson Jr. (AK-3002) is named in honour of Medal of Honour recipient James Anderson Jr.
The name James Anderson Jr. is inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (“The Wall”) on Panel 15E – Row 112.
James Anderson Jr. Memorial Park in Carson, California, at the corner of Wilmington and University was named after James Anderson Jr.
Anderson Hall on Marine Corps Base Hawaii, home to PFC Anderson’s Marine unit, was dedicated in his honour in 1972.
Anderson Avenue in Compton, California, is named after him.
The Downlow Saga, a 2017 novel by author Sheldon McCormick, is dedicated in memory of Anderson.
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