Cornelius H “Connie” Charlton MOH

b. 24/07/1929 East Gulf, West Virginia. d. 02/06/1951 Chipo-ri, Korea.

DATE OF MOH ACTION: 02/06/1951 Chipo-ri, Korea.

Cornelius H Charlton MOH

Cornelius H. Charlton was born in East Gulf, West Virginia on July 24, 1929. He was the eighth of 17 children born to Van Charlton, a coal miner, and Clara (née Thompson) Charlton, a housewife. Cornelius briefly moved to Coalwood, West Virginia in 1940 to live with his brother, Arthur. In 1944, the family moved to The Bronx in New York City, New York as Van Charlton became the superintendent of an apartment building. Cornelius Charlton enrolled in James Monroe High School. Friends and family knew Charlton as “Connie.”

Charlton indicated a desire to join the United States Army from a young age; in high school he begged his parents to allow him to drop out and enlist, wanting to fight in World War II, but his parents refused. When Charlton graduated from high school in 1946, he remained committed to joining the Army, so his parents signed the papers allowing 17-year-old Charlton to enlist.

Charlton left for Basic Combat Training in November 1946. As an African American, he entered the Army at a time when it was still segregated. In 1948, U.S. president Harry S. Truman ordered desegregation of the U.S. military with Executive Order 9981. However, many units remained de facto segregated, with African Americans mostly being pooled into service units and non-combat duties. It would be several years before troops were fully integrated.

In late May and early June 1951, the Eighth Army launched Operation Piledriver, a concentrated effort to push Chinese and North Korean troops further north and out of South Korea. The 25th Infantry Division advanced as part of this operation. The 24th Infantry saw a slow advance during this operation, attempting to advance on Kumwha but encountering strong resistance. On July 1, the 2nd Battalion, 24th Infantry took heavy casualties and was forced to withdraw to reserve positions, and the 1st and 3rd Battalions moved up to continue the advance.

On June 2, C Company moved to capture Hill 543 near the village of Chipo-ri. The hill was protected by heavily entrenched Chinese infantry as well as mortars at the top of the hill. During their first attempt to advance up the hill, the company took heavy casualties, and the 3rd Platoon leader was mortally wounded. Charlton took command of the platoon and reorganized it for another attack. Heavy fire eventually forced the company back down the hill.

Three times, Charlton led the platoon up the hill in the face of intense Chinese mortar and infantry fire. In spite of mounting casualties, the platoon made slow progress. Charlton single-handedly destroyed two Chinese positions and killed six Chinese soldiers with rifle fire and grenades. During one advance, Charlton was wounded in the chest, but he refused medical treatment and pushed the company forward. Charlton continued to lead the attack from the front of the platoon, and several times was separated from the unit. Subsequent accounts noted Charlton continued the advance “holding his chest wound with one hand and an M1 carbine with the other.”

Under Charlton’s leadership, the platoon managed to overcome the Chinese infantry positions, but it spotted a Chinese bunker on the far side of the top of the hill, from which the mortars were firing on them. As recounted by Private First Class Ronald Holmes, one of the men in the platoon, Charlton decided to destroy the bunker, and with his last known words, “Let’s go,” he urged the platoon forward, charging at the front of the formation ahead of the rest of his men. In one final action, Charlton advanced alone to the top of the hill and the location of the Chinese mortars, firing repeatedly on the emplacement there. The Chinese troops wounded Charlton one final time with a grenade, but he continued firing until the position was destroyed. Charlton subsequently died from the wounds inflicted by the grenade. However, he is credited with saving much of his platoon, which had been under heavy mortar fire.

Charlton’s parents were presented with his Medal of Honor on March 12, 1952, by Secretary of the Army Frank Pace. There was some controversy over Charlton’s burial after his death. In 1951, Charlton was not offered a burial plot in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, a custom which is routinely afforded to all Medal of Honor recipients. The US Army later claimed that this was due to an “administrative error,” but Charlton’s family believed the omission was due to racial discrimination. Instead, Charlton was buried in Bryant Cemetery, a segregated cemetery in Bramwell, West Virginia in 1951. The military did not offer to rebury Charlton in Arlington until 1989, and the family refused on the grounds that the oversight had been discrimination. Instead, American Legion Post 32 in Beckley offered to bury Charlton in their own cemetery. On March 10, 1989, Charlton was reburied there with full military honors at a ceremony attended by congressmen, several US Army generals, and an honor guard. Of 252 buried there, Charlton was the only African American. The controversy received national coverage when it was written about in the Los Angeles Times. On November 12, 2008, following efforts of other Medal of Honor recipients, Charlton was finally reburied in Arlington National Cemetery, where his remains currently reside.



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.