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Cornelius H. Charlton

West Virginia
Veterans Memorial

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Cornelius H. Charlton
1929-1951

“. . . his daring exploits resulted in his death but his indomitable courage, superb leadership and gallant self-sacrifice.”

Congressional Medal of Honor citation for Cornelius Charlton

Van and Clara Thompson Charlton gave birth to 17 children, including Cornelius H Charlton. Cornelius, known to family and friends as Connie, was born on June 24, 1929, at East Gulf, Raleigh County, a coal-mining town. His father was a miner for the Gulf Smokeless Coal Company, while his mother was a housewife. During the early 1940s, when Cornelius was in his mid-teens, he moved to Coalwood to live with his brother Arthur. He later moved with his mother and other family members to the Bronx in New York City. Cornelius graduated from Monroe High School while in New York.

He then joined the Army and enjoyed his time in the Army so much that he decided upon a career in the military. Cornelius served in the occupation army in Germany, and then the military sent him to the Orient in 1950. During the Korean Conflict, Cornelius H. Charlton served with the engineering group but he wanted to serve his country in combat and asked for a transfer to the 24th Regiment, the last all-black unit in the Army.

When Cornelius first joined the 24th Regiment, the commanding officer was so shocked to have an experienced noncommissioned officer join his regiment that he believed Cornelius was a troublemaker. He soon realized, however, that instead of a troublemaker, Sergeant Cornelius H. Charlton was a soldier who wanted to serve his country by fighting. The commander appointed him squad leader of the third platoon, and he was later recommended for a battlefield commission.
24th insignia
Insignia for the 24th Regiment

On June 2, 1951, the 24th Regiment was ordered to take Hill 543, near Chipo-ri, Korea. During the first assault, the enemy wounded the commanding officer, who was evacuated. Sergeant Charlton took command of the platoon and led the attack. He eliminated two enemy machine gun placements and killed six of the enemy himself. The platoon suffered severe casualties, which helped the enemy pin them down. Charlton regrouped the men and once again led them forward, but the enemy pushed them back with grenades. Although he was suffering from a chest wound by this time, Sergeant Charlton led a third assault, which captured the crest of the ridge. Spotting the enemy’s emplacement that was slowing the attack, he charged it alone. The enemy threw grenades at him, but he managed to destroy the hostile position before he died from his wounds.

Grave Site at Arlington
Grave site at Arlington
Sergeant Cornelius H. Charlton was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions on June 2. His body was returned to the United States, and he was buried in an African American cemetery, Bryant Cemetery, near Bramwell. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Medal of Honor Society initiated a program to find all the burial sites of Medal of Honor recipients. Cornelius’s burial site was located and the Beckley’s Post 32 of the American Legion received permission to move his body to the American Legion Cemetery in Beckley on March 10, 1990. Finally, on November 12, 2008, the remains of Cornelius H. Charlton were reburied at Arlington National Cemetery.

The state named one of the first bridges on the West Virginia Turnpike the C. H. Charlton Memorial Bridge in honor of the courage and sacrifice of Cornelius H. Charlton. A small park in the Bronx and a U.S Navy ship, the USNS Charlton, were also named after him.
Medal of Honor plaque
West Virginia Medal of Honor plaque

On This Day in West Virginia History: Cornelius Charlton

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West Virginia Archives and History welcomes any additional information that can be provided about these veterans, including photographs, family names, letters and other relevant personal history.


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