Marines paid their final respects to Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. Maj. John Canley when he was laid to rest on Aug. 25 at Arlington National Cemetery.

The funeral service, which began with a flyover by four V-22 Osprey aircraft, was attended by family members, active-duty Marines, other Medal of Honor recipients and veterans of Canley’s unit.

Canley, a company gunnery sergeant in Vietnam with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, heroically led troops in the Battle of Hue City in early 1968 after the unit’s commander was injured. In 2018, he became the first living Black Marine to receive the Medal of Honor, the culmination of a drawn-out campaign to upgrade what was initially awarded as a Navy Cross.

Canley retired from the Marine Corps as a sergeant major in 1981 after enlisting in the service in 1953. He died of cancer in May at 84 years old.

“He was so calm and very resolute about what he did,” Frank Eversole, the company’s radio operator during the battle, said in a release. “There was no doubt in his mind of what he had to accomplish to ensure most of us got back alive.”

The civilian chaplain who delivered the service’s prayer credited Canley with answering “the warrior’s call of duty for almost his entire life,” adding that the Marine embodied “this abstract thing called courage.” Keeping his remarks brief — much to the appreciation of Marines who knew Canley was not one for long speeches — the chaplain called Canley “[a] great Marine who cared about those in his charge.”

“[A]s a Marine, he stood tall,” he said.

Following the prayer, a flag held over Canley’s urn by troops with Bravo Company, Marine Barracks Washington, was folded and given to Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Troy Black, who subsequently presented it to Canley’s daughter before saluting.

“That salute is for the fallen and for the family, and it is the most solemn honor that you can provide that person who is grieving,” Black said in the release. “It’s also a salute from our nation to those who have fallen in defense of our nation or have served our nation. That’s why the salute is so special.”

Even after his passing, Canley’s legacy continues to live on in those who served alongside him. Three of the Marines who fought with Canley in Vietnam were awarded the Bronze Star Medal in June after previous petitions by Canley for their actions to be recognized.

“Nobody wanted any medals ... but the one thing [Canley] said every time he was interviewed, every time ... was that his junior enlisted Marines got no recognition,” John Ligato, a rifleman who served with Canley in Vietnam, told Marine Corps Times in July.

In addition to the aforementioned recognitions, an expeditionary mobile base named after the late sergeant major was christened in June in San Diego.

Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media

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