Medal of Honor recipient Cornelius Charlton (July 24, 1929-June 2, 1951) was born in East Gulf, Raleigh County, the eighth of 17 children of Van and Esther Charlton. The family moved to New York City in 1944.
Cornelius Charlton enlisted in the U.S. Army in November 1946. After basic training and instruction at ordnance school, Charlton was sent to Germany. In 1950, Sergeant Charlton was transferred to Okinawa, Japan, and then to the conflict in Korea. Charlton volunteered for combat and was assigned to the 24th Infantry Regiment—the Army’s last all-black unit—in March 1951.
Charlton earned the Medal of Honor for his actions during a fight to take a hill near Chipo-ri from Chinese defenders on June 2, 1951. After his platoon leader was wounded, Charlton took charge. Charlton killed six Chinese soldiers from two positions using grenades and rifle fire. Wounded, Charlton made a final dash into enemy fire, pumping rounds from his rifle toward the Chinese position. Charlton died from the wounds he received during the battle.
On March 12, 1952, Secretary of the Army Frank Pace presented Charlton’s parents their son’s Medal of Honor at the Pentagon. The honor qualified Charlton for burial at Arlington National Cemetery, but Charlton had already been buried at Bramwell. In 1990, Charlton’s remains were moved to American Legion cemetery in Beckley. Finally in 2008, the family was given permission to have Charlton reburied at Arlington National Cemetery.
West Virginia dedicated the Charlton Memorial Bridge on the West Virginia Turnpike in 1954. In 1999, the Navy christened a ship the USNS Charlton in his honor.
This Article was written by Henry Franklin Tribe
Last Revised on October 04, 2012
Jordan Kenneth. Forgotten Heroes: 131 Men of the Korean War Awarded the Medal of Honor, 1950-1953. Schiffer Military/Aviation History, 2004.
Murphy Edward. Korean War Heroes. Presidio Press, 1997.
Reef Catherine. African Americans in the Military (A to Z of African Americans). New York: Facts on File, 2010.