Military

Profiles of Valor: USMC Sgt. Maj. John Canley

He received the Medal of Honor for actions key to regaining control of Hue City during the Tet Offensive.

Publius · Oct. 18, 2018

President Donald Trump placed the Medal of Honor around the neck of retired Sgt. Maj. John Canley on Wednesday. But, for the Vietnam War hero, it has always been about his Marines.

On Jan. 31, 1968, Canley and about 140 members of Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, were charged with taking back Hue City at the start of the Tet Offensive. When their commanding officer was seriously injured, Canley, the company gunnery sergeant at the time, took control and led his men through what would become one of the bloodiest battles during the Vietnam War.

His official citation reads:

The President of the United States, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in awarding the Congressional Medal of Honor to Gunnery Sergeant John L. Canley, United States Marine Corps, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty in action against the enemy while serving as Company Gunnery Sergeant, Alpha Company, First Battalion, First Marines, First Marine Division, from 31 January to 6 February 1968, in the Republic of Vietnam. Alpha Company fought off multiple vicious attacks as it rapidly moved along the highway toward Huế City to relieve friendly forces that were surrounded by enemy. Despite being wounded in these engagements, Gunnery Sergeant Canley repeatedly rushed across fire-swept terrain to carry his wounded Marines to safety. After his commanding officer was severely wounded, Gunnery Sergeant Canley took command and led the company into Huế City. At Huế City, caught in deadly crossfire from enemy machine gun positions, he set up a base of fire and maneuvered with a platoon in a flanking attack that eliminated several enemy positions. Retaining command of the company for three days, he led attacks against multiple enemy fortified positions while routinely braving enemy fire to carry wounded Marines to safety. On 4 February, he led a group of Marines into an enemy-occupied building in Huế City. He moved into the open to draw fire, located the enemy, eliminated the threat, and expanded the company’s hold on the building room by room. Gunnery Sergeant Canley then gained position above the enemy strongpoint and dropped in a large satchel charge that forced the enemy to withdraw. On 6 February, during a fierce firefight at a hospital compound, Gunnery Sergeant Canley twice scaled a wall in full view of the enemy to carry wounded Marines to safety. By his undaunted courage, selfless sacrifice, and unwavering devotion to duty, Gunnery Sergeant Canley reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.


Correction: The citation was originally for the Navy Cross, which was upgraded to the Medal of Honor. The citation had not been updated.

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