July 6, 2022

Profiles of Valor: Four Medal of Honor Recipients Added to the Ranks

“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty…”

Hershel “Woody” Williams was the last World War II Medal of Honor recipient. His passing reduced the list of living recipients to 63.

This week, that list was expanded by three Army recipients, and the full list of recipients was expanded by four, including one posthumous award. Each of these Vietnam veterans demonstrated “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty…”

The three living recipients are U.S. Army Specialist Five Dwight W. Birdwell, former U.S. Army Specialist Five Dennis M. Fujii, and retired Major John J. Duffy. And it is with gratitude that we note the posthumous addition of Staff Sergeant Edward N. Kaneshiro.

Specialist Birdwell, a member of the Cherokee Nation and Oklahoma lawyer, was recognized for his actions on 31 January, 1968, to prevent an enemy assault and evacuate wounded from Tan Son Nhut Airbase near Saigon — despite his own severe injuries. It was the opening battle of the Tet Offensive. He earned two Silver Stars, a Bronze Star for meritorious service, and two Purple Hearts. You can read his full citation here.

Specialist Fujii is a native of Hawaii who enlisted in 1968. He was recognized for his actions on 18-22 February, 1971, during his second Vietnam tour as a “dust off” medivac UH-1 crew. An inductee in the Army Aviation Museum’s Hall of Fame at Fort Rucker, Alabama, Fujii earned the Distinguished Service Cross, two Purple Heart medals, and one Silver Star. According to his full citation: “On the night of Feb. 19 … for a period of over 17 consecutive hours, Fujii repeatedly exposed himself to hostile fire as he left the security of his entrenchment to better observe enemy troop positions and to direct air strikes against them. … Though wounded and severely fatigued by Feb. 20, the specialist bore the responsibility for the protection and defense of the friendly encampment until an American helicopter could land and attempt to airlift him from the area. … The exhausted Fujii remained at the allied camp for two more days until yet another helicopter could return him to Phau Bai for medical assistance on Feb. 22.”

Major Duffy served four combat tours with several special operations groups, including the 5th Special Forces Group. He is the founder of an investment firm and noted author of military poetry. Duffy is the recipient of 64 awards and decorations, including 29 for valor, among them the Distinguished Service Cross, the Soldier’s Medal, four Bronze Stars with “Valor” device, eight Purple Hearts, seven Air Medals (six with “Valor” device), three Army Commendation Medals with “Valor” device, the Cross of Gallantry with Palm (Vietnam’s highest award for valor), two Crosses of Gallantry with Silver Stars, one Presidential Unit Citation (Naval), three Presidential Unit Citations (Army), the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry w/Palm (Unit), the Vietnam Valorous Service Medal (Unit), the Combat Infantry Badge, Master Parachutist Wings, plus numerous other awards for service and merit.

He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions as the Senior Advisor to the 11th Airborne Battalion, 2d Brigade, Airborne Division, Army of the Republic of Vietnam, during the 14th and 15th of April, 1972. You can read his full citation here.

And finally, Sergeant Kaneshiro was another Hawaiian who enlisted in the Army. He is posthumously recognized for his actions in December 1966, when his unit came under heavy fire from North Vietnamese regulars. Kaneshiro crawled toward the enemy and, using grenades and his M16 rifle, was able to hold off the enemy, saving the lives of his fellow soldiers. He was later killed in action in March 1967. You can read his full citation here.

Some may ask why these men are only now being recognized almost 50 years after the fall of Saigon.

There are several reasons involving documentation of actions and the lengthy nomination process, but more than any other reason, it is that recipients are universally humble warriors. They embody the traits common to all recipients: Courage, Sacrifice, Patriotism, Citizenship, Integrity, and Commitment.

Because of their humility, these late awards are often the result of someone else who knows their stories and who can advocate on their behalf. That often involves the upgrade of a previous military award for valor to the Medal of Honor. In fact, the National Medal of Honor Heritage Center is actively involved in advocating for such upgrades, including most recently on behalf of an Army Cobra pilot, Capt. Larry Taylor. He flew more than 2,700 missions, including 1,200 combat missions; was engaged by enemy fire 340 times; and was forced down five times. He was awarded 61 combat decorations, including the third-highest military award, the Silver Star.

Thank God for these men and their families!

(Visit the National Medal of Honor Heritage Center website.)

Semper Vigilans Fortis Paratus et Fidelis
Pro Deo et Libertate — 1776

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