President Donald Trump bestowed the nation’s highest award for combat valor, the Medal of Honor, to Marine Ret. Sgt. Maj. John Canley at a White House ceremony on Wednesday.
The award was presented to Canley nearly 50 years after his heroic feat at the infamous battle of Hue City, Vietnam, that cost the lives of hundreds American service members.
“Fifty years ago, an American Marine fought with unmatched bravery in one of the longest and bloodiest battles of the Vietnam War: the battle of Hue City. The name of that Marine is Sgt. Maj. John Canley,” Trump said during the award ceremony.
Then-Gunnery Sgt. Canley, was thrust into leading his Alpha company Marines at the outset of the battle after his company commander was severely wounded.
From January 31 to February 6, 1968, Canley spearheaded and defended his men from enemy attacks, and exposed himself to deadly machine gun and rocket fire from North Vietnamese Army soldiers who assaulted the urban stronghold during the Tet Offensive.
On multiple occasions, Canley ran into intense enemy fire to rescue wounded Marines.
During once such occasion on February 6, 1968, the gunny scaled a hospital compound wall twice in full sight of the enemy to rescue fallen comrades.
Throughout the harrowing seven days of intense combat, Canley saved the lives of nearly twenty Marines despite sustaining serious injuries, Trump said.
For his heroic actions, Canley was originally awarded the Navy Cross, the nation’s second highest award for combat valor.
Marines who served under Canley during the Hue City, like former Pfc. John Ligato, pushed a nearly 13 year endeavor to upgrade the gunny’s award.
“We’d all be dead if it wasn’t for the gunny,” said Ligato, who served under Canley at Hue City.
Canley took care of his Marines, rarely slept during the battle, and single-handedly repelled multiple attacks “literally charging machine gun positions with law rockets and hand grenades,” Ligato described.
Marines who served with the gunny have described him as fearless. Canley at times could be seen casually moving through intense enemy fire to aid his fellow comrades.
“Everybody had a story about him,” Eddie Neas, who was a 19-year-old lance corporal and machine gunner in Alpha company.
The gunny was known for leading from the front and setting the example.
“When the sh*t hit the fan ... men like Gunny Canley were already up in front with you,” Neas said.
The intense urban battle at Hue City is hallowed battle ground for the Corps. Lessons learned from the bloody street to street battle are still imparted onto Marines today.
“I am accepting this on behalf of all the Marines I had the honor of serving with in Vietnam and who continue to be an inspiration to me every day,” Canley said in a press release. “Their bravery and sacrifice is unparalleled."
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.