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The father of a hero

By
BARBARA REHM

CHICAGO, May 7, 1973 (UPI) -- An old black man walked through the rain in a quiet park off Lake Michigan and stopped, as he always does, at the bronze monument to his son.

The old man is Milton Olive, Jr. He walks alone often in the 10-acre parked named for his son, Pfc. Milton Olive III.

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On Oct. 22, 1965, in the bushes off a jungle trail in Vietnam, Olive, then 18, was killed when he threw himself on a Viet Cong hand grenade to save the lives of four other men.

For that he won the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military award for bravery. Altogether, 3,357 servicemen have won it, 206 of them in Vietnam.

"Sometimes it's hard being the father of a hero," said Olive. "But mostly it's lonesome.

"War does strange things to a man. I wonder who's better off - the dead ones or the left behind ones."

Olive is 61. He was hired by the city Department of Human Resources soon after he accepted his son's medal April 22, 1966, and after Mayor Richard J. Daley dedicated the tiny park.

Now he sits at a battered desk in his office, the back room of a dingy storefront on the South Side.

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A greying, balding man, Olive speaks haltingly as he twists the buttons on his shirt cuffs.

"I feel somehow destiny has touched me. I have an image to live up to now, and it kind of scares me. My son died and left a great heritage. He's set a great example and I can't let it die. He'll be living in history long after I'm forgotten.

"Sometimes I feel I'm not quite equal to live up to the image required. Sometimes I get so lonely and a little afraid. He was my son and yet the hero part was a stranger. I wonder sometimes late at night if I could have done the same and if I'll live up to the example he set."

"Private First Class Milton L. Olive III distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his own life above and beyond the call of duty while participating in a search and destroy operation in the vicinity of Phu Cuong, Republic of Vietnam, on 22 October, 1965," says his Medal of Honor citation.

"Private Olive was a member of the 3rd platoon of Company B, 2nd battalion (airborne), 503rd Infantry, as it moved through the jungle to find the Viet Cong operating in the area; although the platoon was subjected to a heavy volume of enemy gun fire and pinned down temporarily, it retaliated by assaulting the Viet Cong positions, causing the enemy to flee."

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Sgt. Jimmy Stanford, 37, now at Fort Bragg, was there. "Yep, I can remember it like it was yesterday," he said. "The five of us were crouching in this underbrush. Heavy firing all around us. Milt was on my left about three feet. I remember just a little earlier we'd talked and I said something about my wife and two kids. The grenade fell between us. There was just a split second and no time to think and he grabbed it and tucked it under him and it exploded.

"I don't know why he did it. He barely knew me. That's been six years ago. And every day for six years I've asked myself why. It will haunt me for good. It's somewhere in the background always."

Milton Lee Olive III weighed four pounds when he was born in Chicago Nov. 7, 1946. His mother died in childbirth.

The father worked as warehouseman for General Motors and for six years brought him up alone. Then he married Eva, a teacher. "I guess I did it for the both of us," the father said. "I wanted him to have all a child should have."

"We had a difficult time for a while," said Mrs. Olive. "But I loved them both and I understood how it is with a father and his son."

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A free-lance photographer who covered black social affairs, Olive gave his son a camera when he turned 12 and took him on jobs.

"One time we went to a wedding and my son got the one picture I missed - the bride nearly fell as she walked down the aisle. He had a good eye.

"Skipper always stole the show. I was kind of awkward and out of place, Skipper, he'd just warm that crowd up.

"I had business cards made up for him then. He was so proud carrying around those things saying, 'The only 12-year-old photographer in the city.'"

Skipper left the city when he was 13 and went to live with his grandparents on their small cotton farm near Ebenezer, Miss., a town of about 175.

He had been a restless youth and dropped out of Saints Industrial High School in Lexington, Miss., his junior year. Classmates described him as "an ordinary boy." His scholastic record was undistinguished. Police never heard of him.

He came to his father in August, 1964. Only 17, he needed his signature to enlist in the Army.

"I gave it to him," Olive says. "I'll always hurt for that. I should have known. Why couldn't I have seen what was possible? Sometimes I worry that it was my signature that did it. Maybe he would be alive if I didn't sign for him.

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"He was always a restless kid. He wanted to go out and find himself. He was looking for something and I don't know, even now, if he ever found it. It hurts that I'll never know.

"He liked the farm a lot," his father said. "Maybe it was just those wide open spaces that any kid from an urban community finds attractive, or maybe it was something deeper. Maybe there was something in him close to the land."

He spent three years there, and was buried in a small churchyard cemetery in Ebenezer with full military honors.

Olive sits, twisting the buttons on his cuffs in the harsh light looking sometimes at the snow outside.

"We went from one extreme to the other when Skipper died," he said. "From bitterness to a sort of philosophical outlook.

"I don't blame anyone for his death. Who could I blame?

"Milton did what he felt he wanted to do. He never talked about the war, never said if he felt it was right or wrong."

For him, Olive said, the "war had outlawed itself, had reached the stage where it was terribly wrong," even before his son died there.

"I still don't understand why he died," said Olive. "It will always be a great mystery and a deep hurt to me. There was nothing in his life I can think of that would have made him so strong a man at the end. Nothing I can think of and I've had a long time to think."

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Just before President Johnson invited Olive and his wife to the White House to receive the Medal of Honor, Olive wrote him a letter:

"Our only child gave his last full measure of devotion on a battlefield 10,000 miles from home. It is our dream and prayer that some day the Asiatics, the Europeans, the Israelites, the Africans, the Australians and the Latins can all live together in one world.

"It is our hope that in our own country the Klansmen, the Negroes, the Hebrews and the Catholics will sit down together in the common purpose of good will and dedication... That all mankind shall resolve to make war no more. That, Mr. President, is how I feel and that is my hope for America."

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