This Day in History: Charlie Rogers's heroism
On this day in 1929, a hero is born. Charles Calvin “Charlie” Rogers would go on to earn the Medal of Honor for his bravery in Vietnam. Today, he is the highest-ranking black American to receive the Medal.
Perhaps Rogers’s service was natural, given his upbringing? “[M]y father throughout all of my formative years,” he told an interviewer, “spoke with such great pride of his having served his country in World War I.”
Rogers wanted the same experience.
Then-Lt. Col. Roger’s heroism came during the fall of 1968 while he was serving in Vietnam. He was serving as commanding officer of a battalion tasked with defending a fire-support base near the Cambodian border.
Our soldiers came under attack during the night of October 31-November 1. The attack was later called the “Halloween Party.”
“It was anything but a party,” Rogers said dryly.
A sergeant yelled at him: “Hit the ground, Colonel!” when the attack first hit. “I started falling forward looking in the direction he was pointing,” Rogers later described, “and as I was falling forward something hit me in the face and knocked me over backwards. And I was unconscious for a short period of time, and then I felt I was drowning. And then when I came conscious, I started coughing and choking.”
Rogers had been laying on the ground, drowning in his own blood.
It was a massive attack, with a “concentrated bombardment of heavy mortar, rocket, and rocket-propelled grenade fire,” according to Roger's Medal citation. Soon the enemy had launched a ground assault, too.
Rogers was badly wounded, but he somehow found the strength to lead a direct counterattack on the enemy.
It left him with still more wounds. Unfortunately the conflict had just begun. Soon a second enemy attack was underway—and then a third. For the rest of the day, and into the night, Rogers refused medical care. He directed his men. He organized attacks. He established and reinforced defensive positions.
During the final wave of the attack, Rogers took a hit that sent him flying through the air. He landed upside down and would joke that he was glad for his paratrooper training: had he not tucked his head, he probably would have broken his neck. Nevertheless, he was very badly wounded, and two men ran over with a stretcher.
They thought he was dead. When they saw that he was alive, one man joked: “Colonel, you’ve got more lives than a cat!”
It had been enough. The Americans soon beat back the enemy troops—and Rogers would go on to receive the Medal of Honor. He rose through the ranks and ultimately retired from the Army as a Major General. He spent much of his time working on race relations within the armed forces.
“It’s a tribute to our country,” he concluded, “and a tribute more to our military services—and I can speak for the Army—because we worked diligently, very conscientiously to attenuate this issue of discrimination, to work hard to eliminate it to the highest degree feasible . . . . We’ve knocked out so many barriers, particularly the ones that dealt with what has been described as institutional racism.”
Of all his accomplishments, however, you have to wonder if Rogers most enjoyed his final decade of life: He was a Baptist minister, working alongside our soldiers in Germany.
“Charlie just fairly glows when you are around him,” Lt. General J.W. Woodmansee concludes. “There’s an aura about Charlie Rogers; it’s contagious. Anybody that’s around him, you start feeling good . . . . he’s a man of great depth, great insight, deeply Christian man.”
Unfortunately, Rogers’s life was cut too short when he lost a battle with cancer in 1990.
AFN Special: Major General Charles Rogers, U.S. Army (VisionBroadcast Media LLC; Oct. 1, 1983) (interviewing Major General Rogers)
African American War Heroes (James B. Martin ed. 2014)
Catherine Reef, African Americans in the Military (2004)
Jonathan Sutherland, African Americans at War: An Encyclopedia (2004) (Vol. 1)
Lieutenant Colonel Charles Calvin Rogers: The Most Senior Black Soldier Ever Awarded the Medal of Honor (Congressional Medal of Honor Society website)
Medal of Honor citation (Charles Calvin Rogers; Vietnam)
Medal of Honor Hero—Lt. Col. Charles Calvin Rogers—Vietnam 1968 “Heroes” 1999 TV Series Episode (reposted on YouTube HERE)