Riley L. Pitts

10.15.1937 - 10.31.1967

US Army

First African-American officer to receive the Medal of Honor 

On October 31, 1967, just one month before he was to be rotated back home, Captain Riley Pitts and his men from the 2/27th Infantry, 25th ID was called upon to reinforce another company heavily engaged against a strong enemy force near Ap Dong, Vietnam.

After disembarking the Hueys, they received heavy fire from 3 directions, including 4 bunkers, two of which were within 15 meters of their position.

His rifle fire proved ineffective against the enemy due to the dense foliage, so Pitts picked up an M79 grenade launcher and began destroying the targets. Seizing a grenade taken from a captured Viet Cong's web gear, he lobbed it at a bunker to his front but it hit the foliage and rebounded.

Without hesitation, Pitts threw himself on top of the grenade which, fortunately, failed to explode.

He then directed the repositioning of the company to permit friendly artillery to be fired. Upon completion of the fire mission, he again led his men toward the enemy positions, personally killing more of the enemy at point-blank range. He continued to engage the enemy until he was mortally wounded.

Capt. Pitts would posthumously receive the Medal of Honor in 1968. At the ceremony, President Johnson said: "What this man did in an hour of incredible courage will live in the story of America as long as America endures - as he will live in the hearts and memories of those who loved him. He was a brave man and a leader of men. No greater thing could be said of any man."

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