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Marine Medal of Honor Recipient John Canley Dies at 84

The Marine Corps announced May 12, 2022 the death of "Gunny" John L. Canley, a legendary

warrior in Vietnam and Medal of Honor recipient who was held in awe by other Marine


The 84-year-old Canley, who retired as a sergeant major in 1981, passed away Wednesday

with his family at his bedside in Bend, Oregon, after a decade-long battle with cancer, the

Marine Corps said in a press release.

He is survived by several siblings, three children, a stepson and two grandchildren. With his

death, there are now 64 living recipients of the nation's highest award for valor, according to

the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.

"The most impressive combat Marine I ever knew," retired Maj. Gen. Ray Smith, a Marine

legend himself who earned the Navy Cross, two Silver Stars, a Bronze Star and three Purple

Hearts, said of Canley in a 2018 interview with

As a lieutenant, Smith fought alongside Canley in the brutal 1968 Battle of Hue. Those who

served with Canley "worshiped the ground the guy walked on," Smith 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?'"

Smith spoke after the announcement came down that then-President Donald Trump had

signed a bill passed by Congress to waive the five-year limit on recommendations for the

Medal of Honor and upgrade Canley's Navy Cross to the Medal of Honor 50 years after the

Battle of Hue.

"This honor is for all of the Marines with whom I served," Canley said at the time in an

interview with "The only thing I was doing was taking care of troops best I could.

Do that, and everything else takes care of itself. They are an inspiration to me to this day."

Trump awarded the Medal of Honor to Canley at a White House ceremony on Oct. 17, 2018,

citing Canley's undaunted courage and calm under fire during one of Vietnam's bloodiest


"John and his company of less than 150 Marines had pushed into the city held by at least

6,000 communist fighters," Trump said. "In the days that followed, John led his company

through the fog and rain and in house-to-house, very vicious, very hard combat."

Canley was born on Dec. 20, 1937, in Caledonia, Arkansas, and enlisted in the Marines in

1953, despite being underage. "John used his brother's paperwork to enlist," Trump said at

the White House ceremony.

On his second of three tours in Vietnam, Canley, then a gunnery sergeant, took over as

company commander of Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, when Capt.

Gordon Batcheller was wounded and evacuated during the fight to retake Hue from the North

Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong during the Tet Offensive in late January and February


In the combat that followed, Canley repeatedly exposed himself to the enemy to draw their

fire and reveal their positions to his troops. Twice, he leaped over a wall to pick up wounded

Marines and carry them to safety under fire, according to his medal citation.

On taking command of the company, Canley "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," the

citation said.

Then on Feb. 4, 1968, "despite fierce enemy resistance," Canley managed to get into the top

floor of a building held by the enemy. He "dropped a large satchel charge into the position,

personally accounting for numerous enemy killed, and forcing the others to vacate the

building," according to the citation.

The upgrade of Canley's Navy Cross to the Medal of Honor was the result of a long lobbying

campaign by those who served with him, including former Marine Pfc. John Ligato, a retired

FBI agent, along with the advocacy of Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Calif.

In an interview with and in an article for Leatherneck Magazine, Ligato said the

lobbying effort grew out of a 2005 reunion of Alpha Company's members.

At the reunion, "there were six or seven eyewitnesses to the Gunny carrying wounded

Marines to safety, the Gunny confronting enemy automatic weapon positions, and many

testimonials of, 'You saved my ass, Gunny.'"

Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Troy Black emphasized Canley's devotion to his troops

in the service's press release. "[Canley's] first priority was and has always been his Marines -

- a true example of Semper Fidelis. I'm saddened by the loss of such a great Marine, yet I'm

grateful for the legacy he established for generations of warriors," he said.

That legacy will live on with the scheduled christening June 25 in San Diego of the 784-foot,

90,000-ton USS John L. Canley, a new expeditionary sea-based ship that will be deployed to

the Western Pacific.


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