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First Name: Cornelius

Last Name: Charlton

Birthplace: WV, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Army (1784 - present)

Home of Record: New York, NY
Middle Name: H.

Date of Birth: 24 July 1929

Date of Death: 02 June 1951

Rank: Sergeant

Years Served: 1946 - 1951
Cornelius H. Charlton

•  World War II (1941 - 1945)
•  Korean War (1950 - 1953)


Cornelius H. Charlton
Sergeant, U.S. Army
Medal of Honor Recipient
Korean War

Cornelius H. Charlton (24 July 1929 - 2 June 1951) was a United States Army soldier and a posthumous recipient of America's highest military decoration-the Medal of Honor-for his actions in the Korean War.

Cornelius H. Charlton was born on 24 July 1929 in West Virginia to Van and Clara (née Thompson) Charlton. In 1944, the family moved from West Virginia to the Bronx in New York City. Cornelius attended James Monroe High School there and, after graduating, enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1946. Charlton, an African American, was entering a segregated military. In 1948, President Harry S. Truman ordered the desegregation of U.S. forces, but it would take until 1951 before all units were integrated.

A career soldier, Charlton served with the U.S. troops occupying Germany in the aftermath of World War II before being sent to Korea. Initially assigned to an engineering group, Charlton requested transfer to an infantry unit and was subsequently placed in Company C of the 24th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division. The U.S. Army was still in the midst of desegregation, and the 24th Infantry was the last all-black regiment in operation.

In May 1951, Charlton's unit pushed northwards with the Eighth Army. On 2 June, near the village of Chipo-ri northeast of Seoul, his platoon encountered heavy resistance while attempting to take Hill 543. Taking command after his platoon leader was wounded, Charlton regrouped his men and led an assault against the hill. Wounded by a grenade, he refused medical attention and continued to lead the charge. He single-handedly attacked and disabled the last remaining enemy gun emplacement, suffering another grenade wound in the process. Sergeant Charlton succumbed to his wounds that day, dying at the age of 21. For his actions during the battle, he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

Medals, Awards & Badges

Medal of Honor
Purple Heart
World War II Victory Medal
National Defense Service Medal
Korean Service Medal
United Nations Service Medal
Republic of Korea War Service Medal
Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation
Combat Infantryman Badge

Medal of Honor

Rank and organization: Sergeant, U.S. Army, Company C, 24th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division

Place and date: Near Chipo-ri, Korea, 2 June 1951


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.

Naming Honors

Several structures have been named in Cornelius Charlton's honor including:

A park in the Morrisania neighborhood of the Bronx.

A ferry boat that traveled to Governors Island in the Upper New York Bay.

A bridge on Interstate 77 in his home state of West Virginia.

In 1993, an Army barracks complex in South Korea was named in his honor.

In 1958, trees were planted in Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx in his honor.

The USNS Charlton (T-ARK-314) is one of Military Sealift Command's nineteen Large, Medium-Speed Roll-on/Roll-off Ships and is part of the 33 ships in the Prepositioning Program. She is a Watson-class vehicle cargo ship named for Medal of Honor recipient Sergeant Cornelius H. Charlton. Laid down on 4 January 1999 and launched on 11 December 1999, Charlton was put into service in the Pacific Ocean on 23 May 2000. His sister, Fairy M. Papadopoulos, served as the ship's co-sponsor.


Cornelius H. Charlton's body was returned to the U.S. and buried in his mother's family burial place, Pocahontas Cemetery in Pocahontas, VA. The cemetery eventually fell into disrepair, and Charlton was re-interred in the American Legion Cemetery in Beckley, WV.

On 12 November 2008, representatives from the Charlton, Adams, and Hughes families; the last living members of the Buffalo Soldiers; and two living Congressional Medal of Honor recipients; were in attendance when Sergeant Cornelius H. Charlton was re-interred at Arlington National Cemetery in Section 40, Grave 300.

Story Behind the Final Burial of Sergeant Cornelius H. Charlton

On 4 October 2008, the following article appeared in the Bluefield Daily Telegraph newspaper located in Bluefield, WV:

Long-overdue honor: Charlton to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery

Cornelius Charlton's long and painful odyssey that began on torturous Hill 543 in war-riddled Korea more than half a century ago and took him through burial grounds in the two Virginias is finally ending with long-denied honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

An Army sergeant, Charlton posthumously won a Purple Heart and the Medal of Honor for exceptional bravery in combat in what evolved into a one-man juggernaut on a blood-soaked knoll in Korea.

A native of East Gulf in Raleigh County, Charlton died June 2, 1952, after leading three charges up Hill 543 near Chipo-ri, taking control of his platoon after the commander suffered a disabling wound.

Charlton rallied his comrades and led a second charge, personally knocking out two enemy positions and killing half a dozen soldiers with a combination of grenades and rifle fire. Heavy casualties thrust the platoon back, but Charlton, although mortally wounded himself in the chest, spearheaded a third assault.

Another grenade found Charlton, but the gritty soldier charged the remaining position alone, living long enough to silence his tormentors.

In life, the ill-fated engagement on Hill 543 consumed little time, but it took Charlton, in death, decades to win his final battle - one of race, his brother asserted in a 1990 interview, that kept him immediately after death from receiving equality with America's other fallen heroes.

Charlton served in a nearly forgotten era when the U.S. military remained partially segregated, and, as a black, he initially was barred from interment in Arlington, according to his brother, Arthur, and New York City's Department of Parks & Recreation, which maintains a park in deference to his Bronx growing-up years and military heroism.

Arlington's superintendent, John Metzler, however, discounted that race would have been used to deny Charlton or anyone else from being buried in the cemetery.

"We've never discriminated against anyone," Metzler told The Register-Herald.

"If you have military service, we don't ask what your race is. We have no need to know that. There is no evidence that would ever have happened. It was never a policy of the Army. He would not have been turned down because he was black ... I have seen this story, too, and it has bothered me tremendously. We have people since the beginning of our history in 1864, people of color, who are buried here at the cemetery, and we have never discriminated against anyone."

Since Arlington was not an option at the time, his family brought his remains back to the Bryant Memorial Cemetery in near Pahontas, VA, a privately-owned cemetery that served African American families of the region.

Bryant Memorial did not have a perpetual care program in place and became overgrown with brush and was in that condition when Charlton's grave was rediscovered and his remains were taken to the American Legion Cemetery in Beckley, not far from where he was born. A local volunteer group is currently working to clear the old Bryant Memorial Cemetery.

In a special Nov. 12 ceremony, a niece, Zenobia Penn of New London, CT, plans to join other family members and a Connecticut congressman, or a member of his staff, in a national honor for her heroic uncle.

"I'm extremely proud," she said Thursday. "My family is as well. I've always felt like I had a personal connection to him and his spirit."

A program coordinator for the Opportunities Industrialization Centers, Penn never knew her famous uncle.

"My mother was eight months pregnant with me when my uncle was killed," she explained.

"There was not a time when my family didn't get together on a regular basis that I didn't grow up knowing my Uncle Connie and the story of him. I didn't know him in the physical sense. But the thing is, the more you become familiar with someone, it doesn't matter if it's a relative or a character out of a book or anything to that degree, so long as the substance of that person is communicated to you on a constant basis, you get to know that person.

"That has been a sense from the beginning of time I could put it all together."

Penn drew even closer to the story of her uncle because of the park in the Bronx - Charlton Garden - that bears his name in a neighborhood known as Morrisania. The same year Charlton was wounded mortally in Korea, the city council passed an ordinance naming it the Sgt. Cornelius H. Charlton Playground. From there, it was officially renamed Charlton Playground, and ultimately Charlton Garden.

Veterans raised some $1.5 million to renovate the park and keep it in Charlton's honor, in homage to the place he grew up after his birth in West Virginia, the niece said.

"He was a resident of that time of the Bronx when he went in to the Army," Penn said. "He went to school in New York and then went into the Army from there."

Penn worked with her family and the veterans involved with Charlton Garden to pursue the transfer of the uncle's remains from Beckley to Arlington. The effort accelerated when she enlisted the help of Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., who plans to attend the ceremony next month at the national burial ground, according to his communications director, Brian Farber.
Charlton might have gone through the Korean Conflict as a virtual unknown at a routine desk job, where he originally was assigned, but he volunteered for combat duty and wound up with Co. C in the 24th Infantry Regiment of the Army's 25th Infantry Division.

Once the Medal of Honor Society entered the picture, American Legion Post 32 in Beckley enlisted the aid of local writer-historian Pauline Haga to track down Charlton's gravesite in Pocahontas, VA.

History buffs who often seek out the war dead and decorate their graves, Pauline and husband Leslie Haga Sr. embarked on the arduous task of finding Charlton's grave among rows of stones.

"We made three trips to Pocahontas and found he was there in a cemetery that was so overgrown with briers you had to crawl through it," she said.

"We had found him by researching through old records. My husband had to crawl along the bank of a wooded area. Hundreds of veterans are buried there. It's a unique, old, historical cemetery."

Once they confirmed Charlton's grave and marked it with an American flag for easy spotting, the Hagas got in touch with Melton Mortuary of Beckley to have the remains disinterred and brought to the Beckley cemetery. Now, says Melton owner, Henry Melton, the firm will handle the transfer to Arlington.

Two original steel spans on the West Virginia Turnpike bear the names of Charlton and another native who distinguished himself in the military - pilot Chuck Yeager, who flew 64 combat missions in World War II. In deference to the kind of construction that went into the two spans, both are protected on the federal Register of Historic Places. The one honoring Charlton is in Mercer County.

There is talk of leaving something behind to remember Charlton in this area - the grave marker at the Legion cemetery.

"Rather than just dispose of it, since it's been here a number of years, we're considering leaving it and putting maybe a brass plate on the bottom of it, identifying who it represents and how long he was buried here and when he was removed to Arlington," Post 32 commander Jim Rubin explained.

Penn endorsed the effort to retain some semblance of honor for her uncle at the Beckley cemetery, and expressed gratitude for the work of Post 32 and others in according Charlton honor he achieved on the field of combat.

"God bless you all," she said.

- Bill Archer contributed to this story.


Honoree ID: 1140   Created by: MHOH




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