John Lee Canley MOH

b. 01/02/1938 Caledonia, Arkansas. d. 09/05/2022 Bend, Oregon. 

DATE OF MOH ACTION: 31/01/1968 Hue, Vietnam.

John L Canley MOH

Canley was born in Caledonia, Arkansas, on December 20, 1937. His father was employed at a chemical plant; his mother worked as a restaurant manager. Canley was raised in nearby El Dorado. In 1953, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps from Little Rock, Arkansas.

On the morning of January 31, 1968, Company A, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines was loaded onto trucks and sent to reinforce United States and South Vietnamese forces under siege in Huế. As the convoy approached the southern suburbs of the city, they began to come under increased sniper fire. In one village, the troops dismounted and cleared the houses on either side of the main street before proceeding. The Marine convoy stopped several times to eliminate resistance in heavy house-to-house and street-to-street fighting before proceeding again. During this fighting the company commander, Captain Gordon Batcheller, was wounded. Gunnery Sergeant Canley assumed command of the company, and he and Sergeant Alfredo Cantu Gonzalez led the Marines in the defense of the convoy, actions for which Gonzalez would later be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. At about 15:15 after bloody fighting the Marines managed to make their way toward the besieged Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) compound (16°27′58″N 107°35′31″E). Canley was awarded the Navy Cross in 1970.

Sergeant Major Canley retired from the Marine Corps on October 23, 1981. Representative Julia Brownley sponsored a private bill in Congress for Canley’s Navy Cross to be upgraded to the Medal of Honor. On December 21, 2017, the House of Representatives waived the five year time limit for the award of the Medal of Honor, and the Senate later took similar action. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis recommended the upgrade to President Donald Trump, who approved the award in July 2018. On Wednesday, October 17, 2018, Trump awarded the Medal of Honor to Sergeant Major John L. Canley, United States Marine Corps (Retired), for conspicuous gallantry. Canley died on May 11, 2022, at his daughter’s home in Bend, Oregon. He was 84, and suffered from cancer prior to his death.



On 31 January 1968, when his company came under a heavy volume of enemy fire near the city of Hue, Gunnery Sergeant Canley rushed across the fire-swept terrain and carried several wounded Marines to safety. Later, with the company commander seriously wounded, Gunnery Sergeant Canley assumed command and 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. Retaining command of the company for the following three days, Gunnery Sergeant Canley on 4 February led his men into an enemy-occupied building in Hue. Despite fierce enemy resistance, he succeeded in gaining a position immediately above the enemy strongpoint and dropped a large satchel charge into the position, personally accounting for numerous enemy killed, and forcing the others to vacate the building. On 6 February, when his unit sustained numerous casualties while attempting to capture a government building, Gunnery Sergeant Canley lent words of encouragement to his men and exhorted them to greater efforts as they drove the enemy from its fortified emplacement. Although wounded once again during this action, on two occasions he leaped a wall in full view of the enemy, picked up casualties, and carried them to covered positions. 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.