The U.S. Marine Corps website best encapsulates the life of James Anderson Jr.: “There have been many heroes in the history of the United States. This Marine, in particular, accomplished in an instant what most people will never do in a lifetime.”
James Anderson Jr. was born in January 1947 in Los Angeles, California. He attended Carver Elementary School and Willowbrook Junior High School. After graduating from Centennial Senior High School, he briefly studied at Los Angeles Harbor Junior College. Anderson left college for the Marine Corps in February 1966 and completed recruit training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, California, with the 1st Recruit Training Battalion. When Anderson graduated from recruit training in August 1966, he was promoted to private first class. He continued his training with the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Training Regiment in Camp Pendleton, California.
In December 1966, Anderson was sent to Quang Tri Province, Vietnam, as a rifleman in the Company F, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines, 3rd Marine Division. During Operation Prairie II in February 1967, Anderson’s platoon was navigating through the jungle to extract a reconnaissance patrol when they came under heavy enemy fire.
The platoon quickly reacted and fired back. As Marines around him were shot, Anderson spotted an enemy grenade rolling past. He grabbed the grenade and pulled it into his chest, absorbing the majority of the impact and saving his comrades from serious injuries and death. Anderson died a hero at age 20.
Secretary of the Navy Paul R. Ignatius, on behalf of President Lyndon B. Johnson, posthumously awarded Anderson the Medal of Honor in August 1968, the first African American Marine to be bestowed the honor. Anderson’s other awards and decorations include the Purple Heart, the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal with one bronze star, the Vietnamese Military Merit Medal, the Vietnamese Gallantry Cross with Palm and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal. In 1983, the U.S. Navy renamed a ship USNS PFC James Anderson Jr., which transported equipment to support a Marine expeditionary brigade until 2009. A park in Carson, California, was also named in honor of Anderson.
We honor his service.
Erica MacSweeney is a student intern with VA’s Digital Media Engagement team.