Marine who fought in Battle of Hue receives Medal of Honor, 50 years later

Kaylah Jackson
October 17, 2018 - 10:19 am

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Erik Estrada)

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While serving as the Company Gunnery Sergeant, Sergeant Major John L. Canley carried wounded Marines to safety through dangerous terrain into Hue City, eventually taking over the company when his commanding officer became severely wounded. Wednesday, President Trump will award him with the Medal of Honor for his valorous actions in Vietnam.

Born in Caledonia, Arkansas, Canley enlisted in the Marine Corps in Little Rock, Arkansas and went on to retire from the Marines as a Sergeant Major in 1981. During the time of his service, the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army launched the Tet Offensive. It was coordinated attacks against targets in South Vietnam that resulted in heavy losses for the U.S.

One of the Marines involved in that series of attacks from January 31, 1968, to February 6, 1968, was SgtMaj Canley. He led his company, the First Battalion, First Marines in the Republic of Vietnam, along a highway toward Hue City in an effort to relieve friendly forces who had been ambushed.

At one point, his commanding officer became severely wounded, and for three days Canley took command of the company, leading attacks on multiple enemy positions, often being exposed to enemy fire in an effort to carry other wounded Marines to safety, even after sustaining his own injuries. 

On February 6, the culmination of the firefights,  Canley twice scaled the wall of a hospital compound in full view of the enemy in order to aid wounded Marines and carry them to safety, saving the lives of many.

Canley was awarded the Navy Cross in 1970, the second-highest medal of valor for the Battle of Hue City but John Ligato, a Marine veteran who fought with Canley in Vietnam has advocated upgrading his Navy Cross for years. After collecting documents, statements, and reaching out to Rep. Julia Brownley (D-Calif), she created a bill waving the five-year time limit required to recommend a service member for the Medal of Honor.

President Trump signed the bill in January of this year authorizing the upgrade. Canley told USA Today, “ Mostly for my Marines because we've had to wait 50-plus years to get any kind of recognition. It's not about me. It's about the Marines who didn't get the appropriate recognition when we got home."

Today, Canley, 80, lives in Oxnard, California. He has three children: Ricky, Patricia, and Yukari. His other awards include a Bronze Star with combat "V," Purple Heart, Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with combat "V," and the Combat Action Ribbon. 

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