This story is our weekly ‘Sip of Culture, a partnership between Mississippi Today and The ‘Sip Magazine. For more stories like this or to learn more about The ‘Sip, visit

Take advantage of a special 2-for-1 subscription offer and explore a ‘Sip of the South with The ‘Sip’s print edition.

LEXINGTON — Bonita Porter Spurlock remembers the day the phone call came. She was 5 years old — old enough to know something bad had happened in her close-knit family, too young then to fully grasp its impact.

Pfc. Milton Lee Olive will be honored July 4 with the unveiling and dedication of a monument on the lawn of the Holmes County Courthouse. Credit: Photo submitted

The year was 1965. Army Pfc. Milton Lee Olive, 18, her second cousin, had died in Vietnam using his body to absorb a grenade’s blast. His sacrifice saved four platoon members in that jungle in Vietnam and brought the pain of his loss home to Holmes County a world away.

There was the drive to Ebenezer that night, to the home of Eva Redmond Olive, the grandmother who had raised him.

Bonita Porter Spurlock Credit: Photo by Sherry Lucas / © The 'Sip

“I can remember walking into my Aunt Eva’s house and her crying, ‘My baby, my baby, my baby …,’” Spurlock says.

Olive was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, America’s highest and most prestigious military honor, for his valor that day.

A 2007 state historical marker south of Lexington honors Vietnam War hero Milton Lee Olive. Credit: Photo by Sherry Lucas / © The 'Sip

Tributes to Olive include a park named in his honor in his native Chicago, a state of Mississippi historical marker south of Lexington and the nearby Milton Olive Center, a civic building at Walden Chapel United Methodist Church in Goodman and facilities at Fort Campbell and Fort Benning.

More than 50 years after his final heroic act, Olive’s courage will be saluted again in a new monument on the lawn of the Holmes County Courthouse Square, scheduled to be unveiled and dedicated on the Fourth of July. Attendant ceremonies at the Lexington Multi-purpose Building and the Courthouse Square will include patriotic music, military tributes and an address by National Guard Maj. Gen. Janson D. Boyles, adjutant general of Mississippi.

Big banners stretch across two sides of the Courthouse Square, proclaiming July 4 Milton Olive Day.

The monument, in the works for more than a year, has brought together a diverse committee of Holmes Countians, crossing racial, gender, age and state lines to bring additional honor to the hero and cement his story in county memory for generations.

“Absolutely providential,” says lawyer Don Barrett, who envisioned and oversaw the project.

Don Barrett Credit: Photo by Sherry Lucas / © The 'Sip

The spark struck last summer, he says, from a series of pointed questions from his granddaughter, Aden, 11 at the time and visiting from Nashville. He had taken her to see the state historical marker for Olive on Memorial Day 2016. “She asked me, ‘Where’s his monument?’ and I said, ‘In Chicago.’” But hadn’t he grown up in Holmes County? Why doesn’t he have a monument on the courthouse lawn?

“I couldn’t sleep that night,” Barrett says.

He researched the cost of a monument, using his experience as a director of the Civil War Trust. The Holmes County Board of Supervisors authorized it by unanimous vote, and without his even asking, donated, too.

Charlie Joiner Credit: Photo by Sherry Lucas / © The 'Sip

It’s a project they wanted to be part of, says county administrator Charlie Joiner.

“For us, it was a symbol of courage. It was a symbol of valor. It was a young man and we never really thought about the color of his skin,” but his roots in the county and the values his grandparents instilled in him.

“It’s a true project of unity, really,” she says. “It’s not perfect, but I think that we are a beginning to what the world needs to see — that people can live together in unity, and that we can honor and celebrate one of our own, and it doesn’t matter what color that person is.”

Caroline Gray-Primer Credit: Photo by Sherry Lucas / © The 'Sip

Caroline Gray-Primer, historic resources specialist with state archives and history, had helped the Holmes County NAACP and Freedom Democratic Party apply for the historical marker for Olive in 2007. On advice from Olive’s childhood friend, Leonard “Hamp” Hampton, she joined the effort.

Jerry Wiley, an Army veteran and native Holmes Countian now in Springfield, Ill., came on board. He had grown up knowing Olive’s story, including one high school teacher’s re-enactments of his sacrifice. Wiley was among seven classmates from Lexington who enlisted in the military and, after their service, continued their interest in veterans matters and their home community.

“This is a way to honor an American hero and inspire others to serve,” he says.

When Barrett realized the connection with Olive’s surviving family members in this small community, “we found out that the family was old and dear friends,” he says, turning to Spurlock, “Is that fair to say?”

“More than fair,” she says.

Katherine Barrett Riley Credit: Photo by Sherry Lucas / © The 'Sip

Their fathers were close friends in the 1930s.

Barrett recruited his wife, Nancy, and daughter, Katherine Barrett Riley.

“I have a passion for my little town,” says Riley, the city and county board attorney. “Our young people need to hear this story of this bravery and self-sacrifice which is so rare nowadays.”

Holmes Community College head football coach Jeff Koonz joined the team, too. Originally from upstate New York, he had heard of Olive’s heroism from retired head coach Robert Pool a few years ago, when HCC started a Milton Lee Olive scholarship. Koonz, whose only goal was to help with the ceremony, he says, was shocked when told the monument fundraising’s excess would go to the scholarship fund.

“To have it fully endowed this fast is, again, another Milton Lee Olive III miracle.

“What’s this all about? It’s about making sure the memory never goes away,” Koonz says.

The need-based scholarship and the Milton Lee Olive Courage and Character Award, given annually, do that as well. MLO stickers will go on football helmets.

A sticker with “MLO” will go on Holmes Community College football helmets as another tribute to Milton Lee Olive. Credit: Photo by Sherry Lucas / © The 'Sip

“My players need heroes. There’s not enough of them out there. … Here’s one in our backyard. That’s why I’m really jumping on this. My kids need to know what a real hero is.”

Fundraising surpassed the $60,000 needed for the monument to more than $85,000, Barrett says. “Every nickel over 60 grand will go to the scholarship … a living monument.”

One donation in particular stood out to him, from Vietnam veteran Johnny Dale, who drew a crumpled $100 bill from his pocket and said, “I have been waiting 50 years for somebody to honor my friend, Milton Olive.”

The granite monument, approximately 12 feet tall, will have four sides: a bronze bas relief of Olive’s likeness with birth and death dates; the Bible verse “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” John 15:13; the Medal of Honor citation; and, ‘Erected by the united black and white citizens of Holmes County and dedicated on July 4, 2017.”

Olive’s heroism gives the family a sense of pride and honor, Spurlock says.

“Those are the type of values that were instilled in us, growing up.

“In every one of the family households that you would go in … you were going to find a picture of Dr. Martin Luther King and you were going to find a picture of Milton Olive. That’s just how important he was to the family, he is to the family.”

In the early 1990s, one of the men saved by Olive’s sacrifice, Lt. Jimmy Stanford, traveled to Holmes County with Olive’s father to lay a flower on his grave at West Grove M.B. Church cemetery. The family gathered there. Emotions were full to overflowing.

“We started singing and it was just a really beautiful experience for me,” Spurlock says.

Work on the monument has touched her.

“I’m so very thankful. I’m so very proud.”

She’s sorry that Olive’s father and his older cousin, Wilbur Redmond, who took up the mantle of memorializing the soldier, aren’t alive to see it.

“It’s been a long time coming, but finally it’s here,” she says.

The Milton Lee Olive Monument Dedication will be July 4 at the Lexington Multi-purpose Building, 22571 Depot St. (Mississippi 12 East). A full schedule of events is below:

9:30 a.m. Meet and greet with coffee and doughnuts

10 a.m. Call to order, welcome and invocation, patriotic music by pianist Bruce Levingston

10:25 a.m. Recognition of special guests

10:40 a.m. Address by Maj. Gen. Janson D. Boyles

11 a.m. Adjourn to Courthouse Square (transportation provided between Multi-purpose Building and Square)

On the Courthouse Square

11 a.m. Concert by the Magnolia Brass Quintet of the 41st Army Band

11:30 a.m. Presentation of Colors by Bravo Company 1108th Brigade, National Anthem by gospel/jazz singer Ora Reed; remarks by Olive family member Bonita Porter Spurlock, HCC football coach Jeff Koonz and Maj. Gen. Janson D. Boyles

11:40 a.m. Unveiling of the monument by Aden Barrett and Kelby Wade

11:45 a.m. 21-gun salute by Honor Guard, 1108th Brigade and playing of “Taps”

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Take our 2023 reader survey

Sherry Lucas is a veteran feature writer in Jackson whose stories spread the word on Mississippi's food, arts, culture and communities. A lifelong Mississippian and University of Mississippi graduate, Lucas has decades of daily newspaper experience. She is now a freelance writer and contributes regularly to Mississippi Today.

6 replies on “In Holmes County, July 4 is Milton Olive Day”

  1. I am writing to thank you for the Story about My Late Uncle Milton Lee Olive the 3rd
    I appreciate whatever information you were able to research however I need to give you further information . Milton was the youngest brother of my mom Geraldine Dillard daughter of Clara Lee Olive who was my Grandmother and who died giving birth to Milton my mom is his only surviving Maternal sister of him. He went to live in Chicago with his step mom and his dad. The Lee side is completely left of of this story as well as off of the banner. I think this should be fixed Milton has many surviving relatives on the Lee side and we are very proud of him. I am sending a few pictures one of my mom and me One of Milton’s Mom and one of him done by my cousin. I do not know any members of his fathers side but would like to

    Thanks so Much
    David L Dillard

    This is is Beautiful Mother My Grandmother Clara Lee Olive

    FYI I tried to write you Sherry but your email bounced back

    1. My understanding is Milton Olive was the only child of Clara Olive née Lee, who died in Childbirth, and Milton Olive. How can he possibly be your uncle?

      1. You are 100 pct wrong his name was Milton Lee Olive ok u better gets your facts right before u insult my family

Comments are closed.