Marine John L. Canley’s Navy Cross from Vietnam may be upgraded to the MOH

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Marine John L. Canley’s Navy Cross from Vietnam may be upgraded to the MOH

I’ve actually been following this for a while and meant to write about it previously but things kept coming up.  So now is a good time, in light of President Trump signing off on it last night:

Fifty years after Battle of Hue City, retired Marine John L. Canley has moved a step closer to receiving the Medal of Honor for his "above and beyond" actions in the house-to-house fighting.

On Monday night, President Donald Trump signed a bill passed by Congress to waive the five-year limit on recommendations for the nation's highest award for valor and authorized the upgrade of Canley's Navy Cross to the Medal of Honor.

The bill (H.R.4641), sponsored by Rep. Julia Brownley, D-California, "authorizes the President to award the Medal of Honor to Gunnery Sergeant John L. Canley for acts of valor during the Vietnam War while serving in the Marine Corps."

To sort of understand what was going on in Hue City there is a pretty good Youtube video, but note that it largely follows the actions of a different Marine unit that was adjacent to and working with the unit that Canley was with.

The VC Star has a pretty good article on what Canley did:

The company captain lay sprawled on the ground with wounds that threatened his life.

More than 120 Marines, most of them teenagers, were pinned in a muddy ditch by machine gun fire coming from two directions outside of Hue, Vietnam.

Gunnery Sgt. John Canley, a quiet, tall Marine lifer from Arkansas, took command of the company because the captain was down.

It was his job to keep his men alive and lead them into Hue.

If you want to know what happened, don't ask Canley, the 80-year-old Oxnard resident who stands on the cusp of being honored with the military's highest award… Instead, that duty falls to the men who served with him in that battle.

They have a good video of the retired Sgt. Maj. as well.

I don’t know precisely how these work in terms of upgrades, whether the citation is rewritten or if they go off the existing one, but reading his Navy Cross it is a shame this is even an issue, because it appears to me as if it should have been granted a long time ago:

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Gunnery Sergeant James L. Canley (MCSN: 1455946), United States Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism while serving as Company Gunnery Sergeant of Company A, First Battalion, First Marines, FIRST Marine Division (Reinforced), Fleet Marine Force, during operations against the enemy in the Republic of Vietnam from 31 January to 6 February 1968. On 31 January, when his company came under a heavy volume of enemy fire near the city of Hue, Gunnery Sergeant Canley rushed across the fire-swept terrain and carried several wounded Marines to safety. Later, with the company commander seriously wounded, Gunnery Sergeant Canley assumed command and immediately reorganized his scattered Marines, moving from one group to another to advise and encourage his men. Although sustaining shrapnel wounds during this period, he nonetheless established a base of fire which subsequently allowed the company to break through the enemy strongpoint. Retaining command of the company for the following three days, Gunnery Sergeant Canley on 4 February led his men into an enemy-occupied building in Hue. Despite fierce enemy resistance, he succeeded in gaining a position immediately above the enemy strongpoint and dropped a large satchel charge into the position, personally accounting for numerous enemy killed, and forcing the others to vacate the building. On 6 February, when his unit sustained numerous casualties while attempting to capture a government building, Gunnery Sergeant Canley lent words of encouragement to his men and exhorted them to greater efforts as they drove the enemy from its fortified emplacement. Although wounded once again during this action, on two occasions he leaped a wall in full view of the enemy, picked up casualties, and carried them to covered positions. By his dynamic leadership, courage, and selfless dedication, Gunnery Sergeant Canley contributed greatly to the accomplishment of his company's mission and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and of the United States Naval Service.

SGM Canley was a guest of Secretary Mattis last night at the State of the Union Address, per which had more on his heroics, specifically an attack in a church, and an enduring image from that battle:

The photo shows four Marines descending the steps of the shattered Jeanne d'Arc church. The first is then-Lt. Ray Smith, a Marine legend himself who earned the Navy Cross, two Silver Stars, a Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts during his tours in Vietnam, before retiring as a major general.

"The most impressive combat Marine I ever knew," Smith said in a phone interview of then-Gunnery Sgt. Canley, 80, who retired as a sergeant major and now lives in Oxnard, California.

Smith recalled that at his own retirement ceremony at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, he said, "All through my career, whenever I had to make a decision that would affect Marines, I'd always think -- 'What would Canley tell me to do?' "

The last figure of the four in the photo was Canley, who would earn the Navy Cross, the second-highest award for valor, for his actions in Hue.

You should also read this article about the Battle for Hue City by Mark Bowden, the famed author of such works as Black Hawk Down.

Well, now, 50 years later it is being upgraded apparently, and it is well-earned.

Go read all the articles above in total, they really give you an image about what some men are capable of, and the honors they earned on the battlefield, only to come home to a country not equipped to properly thank them.

Posted in the burner | 5 comments
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Thanks Gunny, for being a MARINE.

Semper Fi SgtMaj. Your action in defense of your men is nothing but commendable. You make us all proud, your family, your Marine Corps, your Country. I'm glad you are alive and "Welcome Home".

Semper Fi Guns!
You are truly one hell of a jarhead!
Stories like this remind me of the caliber of men I had the privilege of flying with
I hope you live long enough to enjoy Medal of Honor!

Long overdue. I met a fellow Marine who served in 65. Still has undiagnosed PTSD and probable agent orange issues. He feels as though “he doesn’t deserve” the needed help. I’ve encouraged him to contact the VA and get the help he needs.
You encouraged others to fight with all they have, then help each other and when they couldn’t, you stepped in and pulled them out to safety.
You are the embodiment of the honor of the Marine Corp.
Thank you
Semper Fidelis Marine

I was there in 1967 with Lima Battery 4/11 At Phu Bia. I remember firing support for the 5th Marines when they went into Hue. We were on alert for three days waiting on fire missions. Still have dreams about that time.

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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.