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Wed, 07.24.1929

Cornelius Charlton, Soldier born

Cornelius Charlton

*Cornelius Charlton was born on this date in 1929. He was a soldier in the United States Army during the Korean War.

Cornelius H. Charlton was born in East Gulf, West Virginia. 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." 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, when it was still segregated. In 1948, U.S. president Harry S. Truman ordered the desegregation of the U.S. military with Executive Order 9981. However, many units remained de facto segregated, mostly pooling African Americans into service units and non-combat duties. It would be several years before troops were fully integrated. After basic training, Charlton was assigned to Allied-occupied Germany, where he served out his whole enlistment.

Charlton opted to re-enlist, and his next assignment was with a military engineering battalion at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Aberdeen, Maryland. In 1950, Charlton was assigned to the Occupation of Japan, indicating a desire to fight in the Korean War. He was assigned to C Company, 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, part of the 25th Infantry Division. The regiment was one of the de facto segregated units, almost entirely African American men led by white officers. Charlton arrived at C Company of the regiment's 1st Battalion in early 1951 and was made a squad leader in the 3rd Platoon.

With his natural leadership ability, his squad was soon considered a model unit. In May 1951, Charlton was made the platoon sergeant, and his commander recommended him for a battlefield commission. During a battle for Hill 543 near the village of Chipo-ri, Charlton took command of his Platoon after its commanding officer was injured, leading it on three successive assaults of the hill. Charlton continued to lead the attack until the Chinese position was destroyed, at the cost of his life. Cornelius H. Charlton died on June 2, 1951.

On that date, Sergeant Charlton posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his actions near Chipo-ri, South Korea. In the following years, Charlton was honored numerous times but was controversially not given a spot in Arlington National Cemetery, which his family claimed was due to racial discrimination. The controversy attracted national attention before Charlton was reburied in Arlington in 2008.

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