Medal Monday: John Canley

“My first love in the Marine Corps was leading Marines in combat—it motivated me everyday, they inspired me everyday. They are the medal.”

On October 17, 2018, retired Sergeant Major John Canley will be awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during the Battle of Hue while serving in the Vietnam War. From January 31 to February 6, 1969, Canley was assigned to Company A, First Battalion, First Marines in the Republic of Vietnam. While serving as a Company Gunnery Sergeant, Canley was responsible to fight off enemy attacks to allow for his company to move along and reclaim Hue City alongside friendly forces. Multiple times, Canley ran across a heavy fire to carry wounded Marines to safety – sustaining multiple wounds in the process. One of his men described the courage that Canley, or who they called “Gunny” displayed, “He never ran and he never ducked,” said Ligato, chuckling at how calm Canley could be as rounds whizzed past him. “You know, it’s just amazing. I don’t know if he had some sort of death wish or what—Gunny says that he just gets into a zone and does what he has to do…I don’t know how the bullets didn’t hit him.”

Later, during the same Battle, the company commander was seriously wounded and, without batting an eye, Sergeant Major Canley assumed command. He reorganized, advised, and encouraged the men. During this period Canley was injured again, sustaining shrapnel wounds. He persevered and established a base of fire that allowed for his company to break through the enemy. At this point, his company made their way into an enemy-occupied building in the city of Hue where Canley was successful in gaining a position above the enemy and personally responsible for many enemy kills and the forced evacuation of the remaining enemy.

On February 6, after many casualties were reported from Company A, Sergeant Major Canley encouraged his men and helped drive the enemy out. During this time, Canley was wounded once again and on “two occasions he leaped a wall in full view of the enemy, picked up casualties, and carried them to covered positions.” Through his encouragement and leadership, Canley and his men pushed their way forward.


Military Decorations

Sergeant Major John Canley is a highly decorated military veteran. While the Medal of Honor is the Nation’s highest medal of valor, his other awards include:

Navy Cross

Bronze Star with combat “V”

Purple Heart

Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with combat “V”

Combat Action Ribbon

Four Presidential Unit Citations

Seven Marine Corps Good Conduct Medals

Two Marine Corps Expeditionary Medals

Two National Defense Service Medals

Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal

Nine Vietnam Service Medals

Two Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Crosses

Korean Defense Service Medal

Three Sea Service Deployment Ribbons

The Republic of Vietnam Meritorious Unit Citation

The United Nations Service Medal

The Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal with 1960 Device

The Rifle Expert Badge (11th Award)

The Pistol Expert Badge (16th Award)