John Lee Canley, Medal of Honor recipient, passed away Wednesday, May 11, 2022, in Bend, Oregon.
From Jan. 31 to Feb. 6, 1968, Canley, then a gunnery sergeant, was ordered to lead the men of Company A, First Battalion, First Marine Regiment, First Marine Division, into Hue City, Vietnam, to relieve surrounded friendly forces. As they moved rapidly along the highway along the southern outskirts of the city, his Marines came under intense enemy attacks.
Canley was noted to be fearless. He purposefully drew enemy fire to himself to pinpoint the location of enemy emplacements and then led attacks to eliminate the threats. He repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire to pull wounded Marines to safety. Once in the city, he expertly led his men in room-to-room fighting to overtake enemy troops. Over a period of a week, Canley continually set the example for all to follow. Through his indominable spirit, expert fighting skills, and encouragement, his men were successful in their efforts.
For his actions over the course of those days, Canley was presented the Medal of Honor by President Donald J. Trump, in a White House ceremony, on Oct. 17, 2018.
Canley was born Dec. 20, 1937, in Caledonia, Arkansas, and enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in Little Rock, Arkansas. He leaves behind several siblings, three children, a stepson, and two grandchildren.
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.
Photo credit: A portrait of retired Sgt Maj. John L. Canley, taken July 9, 2018 — months before he received the Medal of Honor. (Sgt. Erik Estrada/U.S. Marine Corps photo)