Medal of Honor Recipient, Captain Riley Leroy Pitts
October 15, 1937 – October 31, 1967
One could say that Riley Leroy Pitts was born with steadfast determination and made decisions through the filter of duty and service. As a result, he was the first African-American officer to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor, which was awarded posthumously in 1968. Captain Riley Leroy Pitts (October 15, 1937 – October 31, 1967) exemplified valor with his work ethic and mindset.
The city of Oklahoma City’s website relays that, in 1960, Riley Leroy Pitts was the first person in his family to graduate from college – Wichita State University. However, he was born and raised in Oklahoma, where he learned the importance of commitment to diligence by the examples of his family and teachers. After college, Pitts married Eula, and the couple had two children, Stacie and Mark.
According to Black Past, Pitts joined the army in 1960 after completing ROTC at Wichita State. His resolute character facilitated his quick promotion to the rank of captain. As a captain, he served as an information officer while stationed in Europe. Always striving to grow in his leadership abilities, Captain Pitts volunteered for a combat unit in 1966. This was at the time when the Vietnam War escalated. He was given the opportunity and became the commander of C Company “Wolfhounds,” 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment. While in command, Pitts’ unit led an assault against Viet Cong forces. After the assault, Pitts’ unit moved further north, facing continual heavy fire from multiple directions. Using a grenade from a captured Viet Cong soldier’s gear, Pitts hurled it back at an enemy’s bunker, but when the grenade hit the foliage, it ended up back where it started. The intrepid Pitts jumped on the grenade, trying to save his men. Thankfully, the grenade did not explode, and his unit pressed on. Despite their valiant effort, the relentless gunfire would be more than they could endure. On October 31, 1967, Captain Riley Leroy Pitts was killed in action and left a legacy of courage, honor, and sacrifice. He was one month away from returning home to his family.
Pitt’s widow Eula Mae Pitts accepted the Congressional Medal of Honor in memory of her husband from President Lydon B. Johnson. In honor of the fortitude of Captain Pitts, his memory resides at Post No. GR07 of The American Legion, Department of France, at Wiesbaden, Germany, as well as a veteran student center at Wichita State where a therapy dog, aptly named Riley, works with veterans. Most recently, the CPT. Riley Riley L. Pitts OCPA Conference Room at the Pentagon was also dedicated in his honor.