National Medal of Honor Museum Foundation Statement on Passing of Medal of Honor Recipient, Sergeant Major John L. Canley

John Canley earned the Medal of Honor for actions between January 31 and February 6, 1968, while serving in the Vietnam War. With his passing this week at the age of 84, there are now only 64 living recipients of the nation’s highest award for valor in combat. 

President and CEO of the National Medal of Honor Museum Foundation, Chris Cassidy, released the below statement:

“After his commanding officer was wounded, Canley took command of the company, just as the Marines entered Hue City. Canley led these Marines, often at great personal risk, through the brutal and unrelenting Battle of Hue City, repeatedly exposing himself to carry the wounded to safety. His actions saved the lives of over 20 Marines. That kind of unwavering bravery, courage and self-sacrifice is what the Medal of Honor represents. We owe it to John Canley – the Hero of Hue City – and every other Medal of Honor recipient who has gone to amazing lengths to defend our nation to share and preserve their stories for generations to come. We join his family, friends and all Americans in mourning this great loss.” 

Canley enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1953 when he was only fifteen, using his brother’s paperwork to enter the service even though he was underage, and deployed three times to Vietnam. He retired from the Marine Corps in 1981 as a sergeant major.

John L. Canley Medal of Honor Action

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, Company A, First Battalion, First Marines, First Marine Division from 31 January to 6 February 1968, in the Republic of Vietnam. Company A fought off multiple vicious attacks as it rapidly moved along the highway toward Hue City to relieve friendly forces that were surrounded by enemy forces. 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 Hue City. At Hue 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 Hue 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.

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