Cornelius Charlton

The Bramwell Aristocrat
February 1990

A Forgotten Hero

His Country gave him its highest military honor. The State of his birth named a bridge in his honor. A tree grows in the Bronx, dedicated to his memory and a ferry boat bore his name. The Satuday Evening Post called him 'The Hero of Hill 543'.

His name was Cornilius [sic] Charlton. Out on WV Hway 12, between Bramwell and Pocahontas, if you listen hard on particularly dark and foggy nights, you might hear the faint sound of 'taps'. For it is there, in an overgrown cemetery, that Connie Charlton lies.

The DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY, in General Order No. 30, states;

By direction of the President, the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life, above and beyond the call of duty, is awarded posthumous to the following named enlisted man.

Sergeant Cornelius H. Charlton Company C, 24th Regiment, 25th Division U.S. Army Infantry

Sergeant Charlton distinguished himself in action against the enemy near Chipo-ri, Korea on 2 June 1951. His platoon was attacking heavily defended hostile positions on commanding ground when the leader was wounded and evacuated. Sergeant Charlton assumed command, rallied the men and spearheaded the assault against the hill. Personally, eliminating two hostile positions and killing six 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, Sergeant Charlton refused medical attention and led a third 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 exploit 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

Date of award: 24 January 1952

Connie Charlton had been born in 1929 at Eastgulf, Raleigh County, West Virginia. His mother, the former Clara Thompson of Taz[e]well County, Virginia, and father Van took the family to New York, the Bronx, in 1944. It was there he enlisted in the Army, in 1946 after graduating from Monroe High School.

He liked the army and had decided to make it a career. He served with the occupation army in Germany and in 1950 was shipped to the orient.

He was Regular Army, with all the pride that carried, in a dirty little War that had yanked reservists from home and job to man the battle line against communism. Secure as a Sergeant Major in an engineering group some 100 miles behind the lines, Connie requested transfer to an infantry outfit, the 24th Regiment, the only black regiment still operational in the U.S. Army.

Charlton was assigned as squad leader, third platoon, and in May when the Eighth Army jumped off on a push north he went along with 'Charlie Company'.

Some forty years later, Seoul would host the Olympics a scant fourteen miles southwest of their position on what was called, at the time, the Lincoln Line. In 1951 it wasn't a game, it was War. Ten days later Connie Charlton was dead. Willard Colton, a magazine writer of the day, in a Saturday Evening Post feature story about Cornelius Charlton, wrote, " Connie never understood the forces that brought him all the way from Eastgulf, West Virginia, to that bloody hillside south of Chipo-ri, Korea. The cleavage of a republic, the greed of a cancerous ideology."

He was a soldier! A Regular Army soldier. He understood that and he knew what a soldier was supposed to do. Not stop and turn back from the enemy, but attack and move forward. The safe position for his men was not back, but ahead. He also understood that he was the platoon Sergeant, he was the leader and lead he did.

"Where does a soldier go?" Colton asked in his article. In 1951 to Chipo-ri. To Hill 543. To the pages of a big blue book entitled "Medal of Honor".

When Sergeant Charlton was brought home his mother wanted him buried in the Pocahontas Cemetery, because it was her family burial place.

The Cemetery was opened in 1942 by Emmett Bryant of Pocahontas and many black families in the area bought lots. It adjoins a Hebrew Cemetery and is near the original Pocahontas Cemetery. It is on the West Virginia side of the State Line and is in Mercer County. With the passing of Mr. Bryant there was no Cemetery Association to maintain the ground and so it has become overgrown and abandoned. The Medal of Honor Society, a national organization has begun a search for the final resting places of all Medal of Honor winners and in the search for Cornilius [sic] Charlton made contact with Ken Hechler, the West Virginia Secretary of State and a military historian. Hechler assisted in locating the cemetery. The grave itself has not been found, at this writing, because the Bryant Cemetery has for the most part, been completely overgrown.

The nearest relative is a brother, Arthur Charlton, who lives in Coalwood. Like the rest of the family, too far away to maintain the site. lt is obvious that since that day in 1951, when the Honor Guard completed the military funeral, few have visited the grave site.

The American Legion, in Raleigh County, has received permission of the family to move his remains from the abandoned cemetery to a military cemetery in the county of his birth.

Connie Charlton is at long last going home. Eastgulf is gone now, but he will be reburied with appropriate ceremony in a setting more in keeping with his status as a Medal of Honor recipient.

When he takes that last ride home, as the funeral coach travels up I-77, he will pass over the 'Charlton Bridge' that spans the Bluestone gorge. Past the site where in 1954 his mother, as a guest of Governor Marland, unveiled the Memorial Plaque that honored the 'Hero of Hill 543'.

Military and Wartime