OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A mural of the first Black officer Medal of Honor recipient will be unveiled November 11 at the northeast Oklahoma City park named after him.
Captain Riley Leroy Pitts, born in Fallis, Oklahoma, posthumously received the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1968 – making him the first Black American officer to receive the nation’s highest military decoration.
Capt. Pitts was a career soldier in the US Army, assigned to Company C, 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry, 25th Infantry Division, according to the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame.
He was killed Oct. 31, 1967, near Ap Dong, Vietnam, just one month before he was to be rotated back home.
Distinguishing himself by exceptional heroism while serving as company commander during an airmobile assault. Immediately after his company landed in the area, several Viet Cong opened fire with automatic weapons. Despite the enemy fire, Capt. Pitts forcefully led an assault which overran the enemy positions. Shortly thereafter, Capt. Pitts was ordered to move his unit to the north to reinforce another company heavily engaged against a strong enemy force. As Capt. Pitts’ company moved forward to engage the enemy, intense fire was received from three directions, including fire from four enemy bunkers, two of which were within 15 meters of Capt. Pitts’ position. The severity of the incoming fire prevented Capt. Pitts from maneuvering his company. His rifle fire proving ineffective against the enemy due to the dense jungle foliage, he picked up an M-79 grenade launcher and began pinpointing the targets. Seizing a Chinese Communist grenade which had been taken from a captured Viet Cong’s web gear, Capt. Pitts lobbed the grenade at a bunker to his front, but it hit the dense jungle foliage and rebounded. Without hesitation, Capt. Pitts threw himself on top of the grenade which, fortunately, failed to explode. Capt. Pitts then directed the repositioning of the company to permit friendly artillery to be fired. Upon completion of the artillery fire mission, Capt. Pitts again led his men toward the enemy positions, personally killing at least one more Viet Cong. The jungle growth still prevented effective fire to be placed on the enemy bunkers. Capt. Pitts, displaying complete disregard for his life and personal safety, quickly moved to a position which permitted him to place effective fire on the enemy. He maintained a continuous fire, pinpointing the enemy’s fortified positions, while at the same time directing and urging his men forward, until he was mortally wounded. Capt. Pitts’ conspicuous gallantry, extraordinary heroism, and intrepidity at the cost of his life, above and beyond the call of duty, are in the highest traditions of the U.S. Army and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the Armed Forces of his country.Congressional Medal of Honor citation for Capt. Riley Leroy Pitts
President Lyndon B. Johnson presented the medal to Pitts’ widow, Eula, and his son and daughter at the White House on December 10, 1968.
“He was a brave man, and leader of men. No greater thing could be said of any man. His valor under fire moved him forever into that select company where the heroes of our history stand,” said President Johnson. “His sacrifice was for us all. His countrymen, and all who live in freedom, will be indebted to him for all of freedom’s days.”
Pitts Park was named after the Captain by city proclamation in 1975. Now, the park will be home to a mural of the distinguished soldier.
An unveiling ceremony will be held Saturday, Nov. 11 from 2-4 p.m. at Pitts Park, 1920 N Kate Ave. OKC, OK 73111.
There will also be food trucks, music and even more art at the event.