President Trump signed a bill to award a Medal of Honor to 80-year-old Vietnam veteran, retired Marine Sergeant John Canley. The move upgrades the Navy Cross Sgt. Canley had previously been awarded to the highest U.S. military decoration. The decision was approved by Defense Secretary James Mattis.
Canley, a quiet, tall Marine lifer from Arkansas, took command of his company during the Battle of Hue because his captain was down. He carried several wounded Marines from under heavy enemy fire and maintained the unit’s organization and morale.
Congress had to waive the five-year limit for recommending the Medal of Honor. That fight was taken up by Rep. Julia Brownley (D-CA), and once that hurdle was overcome, it was go time.
“The credit for this award really should go to all the young Marines in Vietnam who inspired me every day,” said Canley. “Most of them didn’t receive any recognition, but they were the foundation of every battle in the Vietnam War,” he added.
Canley led the drive for a Medal of Honor to be awarded posthumously to Sgt. Alfredo Cantu “Freddy” Gonzalez, who along with Canley opened up a hole that allowed the bloodied battered Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment to advance into Hue and the heart of the Tet Offensive. The 21-year-old Gonzalez was mortally wounded by a rocket. He took cover in the Saint Joan of Arc Catholic Church, where he died.
John Ligato, a private first class who became an FBI agent after the war, praised Canley’s actions, likening him to John Wayne.
“We all like to think we’re a little brave. He’s on a different plane,” said Ligato.
In 2005, Ligato started a drive to upgrade Canley’s Navy Cross, along with a purple heart and two bronze stars, to the Medal of Honor. It took 13 years.
Luckily, Ligato approached Brownley’s staff in 2014 and asked the congresswoman to join the drive. The rest is history.
Canley’s citation states: “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.”