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First African-American Medal of Honor recipient


U.S. Army 1st Lt. Ruppert L. Sargent (1938-1967), is likely one of the most decorated military service members throughout the city of Hampton, Virginia. As a Hampton native, he was the first African-American officer to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroics at Hau Nghia Province, Republic of Vietnam on March 15, 1967.


Sargent served as a rifle platoon leader of Bravo Company, 4th Battalion, 9th Regiment, and 25th Infantry Division during the Vietnam War.


Fifty years ago today, he uncovered a Viet Cong weapons cache and tunnel complex. At the entrance of the complex Sargent observed a booby trap and tried to blow it up with a hand grenade, but he failed to destroy it.


As Sargent and his Soldiers walked closer towards the tunnel entrance, an enemy fighter tossed two grenades into the vicinity of the platoon. Without any hesitation Sargent fired three shots then threw himself on top of the grenades, fatally injuring himself, while two of his men received minor injuries.

According to the Sargent’s Medal of Honor citation, because of his courageous and selfless act of exceptional heroism, he saved the lives of the platoon sergeant and forward observer, and prevented the injury or death of several other nearby comrades. His actions were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military services and reflect great credit upon himself and the U.S. Army.

Aside from being Hampton’s only Medal of Honor winner, in 2001 the city Hampton dedicated a seven-story building in his honor. The Ruppert L. Sargent Memorial City Administrative Building is located at 1 Franklin Street in downtown Hampton, and in the lobby there is a bronze statue of him on display.

 Sargent’s grave site is located at Hampton National Cemetery.