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This Day in History: Johnny Lee Canley's Medal of Honor

On this day in 2018, a hero receives the Medal of Honor. Sgt. Major Johnny Lee Canley’s Medal had been a long time coming. His heroism came during the Vietnam War, at the Tet Offensive, fifty years before he received his Medal.


Would you believe that he joined the Marines in 1953, when he was only 15 years old? He used his brother’s paperwork to get in.


On January 31, 1968, Canley was a Gunnery Sergeant serving with Alpha Company, First Battalion, First Marine Regiment. About 150 Marines from his company would help take back Huế City, which had been seized by the North Vietnamese.

“As we approached the outskirts of the city,” Marine Corps veteran John Ligato later described, “NVA machine guns opened up from the north. An open rice paddy was to the east and the NVA blocked any southern retreat back to Phu Bai. Co A was now stuck in a deadly crossfire with no options, so we hunkered down and waited.”


It wasn’t pretty. The commanding officer was badly wounded, so Canley took over. He must have been all over the place during those hours? His citation describes Canley “repeatedly rush[ing] across fire-swept terrain to carry his wounded Marines to safety.”


“They’re alive, right? So I’m going to try to get to them,” Canley shrugged.