On Tuesday, July 5, 2022, President Joe Biden awarded Medals of Honor to four soldiers for actions in the Vietnam War, finally recognizing them for the courage and heroism they showed during the fight there.
Three of the four men attended a White House ceremony to receive the medals. The fourth — Staff Sgt. Edward N. Kaneshiro — was killed during fighting in Vietnam and was honored posthumously. Family members were present to accept his honors.
“Honestly, it’s been a long journey to this day for those heroes and their families. And more than 50 years have passed — 50 years — since the jungles of Vietnam where as young men these soldiers first proved their mettle,” said Biden. “But time has not diminished their astonishing bravery, their selflessness in putting the lives of others ahead of their own and the gratitude that we as a nation owe them.”
All four men had previously been given other military awards for their actions, but they were the subject of speculation about an upgrade to the military’s highest battlefield honor in recent years.
Kaneshiro served as an infantry squad leader with the 1st Cavalry Division in the Kim Son Valley in December 1966. His unit was ambushed by North Vietnamese forces while on a search and destroy mission in the village of Phu Huu 2. Army officials said Kaneshiro destroyed one enemy group with rifle fire and two others with grenades, enabling his men to withdraw from the area safely. He served four more months in the country until he was killed by hostile gunfire on March 6, 1967.
Spc. 5th Class Dwight W. Birdwell was serving with the 25th Infantry Division a year later when the events he was honored for occurred. During an assault on Tan Son Nhut Airbase near Saigon on Jan. 1, 1968, Birwell’s unit was overrun and his tank commander incapacitated by an enemy attack. Under heavy enemy fire, Birdwell moved his commander to safety and returned fire at the enemy with a nearby tank. In the subsequent firefight, he was wounded in the face and torso, but refused evacuation. He didn’t receive medical care until reinforcements arrived and he was ordered to withdraw.
Spc. 5th Class Dennis M. Fujii was the crew chief aboard a helicopter ambulance during rescue operations in Laos and Vietnam in February 1971. During a mission to evacuate seriously wounded Vietnamese military personnel, his medevac helicopter was shot down. Despite injuries, he waved off a rescue from another helicopter and remained behind as the only American on the battlefield. Over the next 17 hours, he provided first aid to allies in the area and called in American air support to help defend the outmanned Vietnamese allies. Army officials said he repeatedly exposed himself to hostile fire in order to protect the other men.
Maj. John J. Duffy was serving as the senior advisor to the 11th Airborne Battalion, 2nd Brigade in April 1972, when the battalion commander was killed and the command post destroyed during an attack. Duffy was wounded twice in the fighting but refused evacuation in order to ensure other personnel could be evacuated from the area. The next morning, during another enemy assault, Duffy was wounded a third time while attempting to call in American air strikes. Over the course of two days of fighting, he maneuvered throughout the battlefield, identifying targets for American gunships and helping others get evacuated to safety.
Not including the four new awards, 260 service members have been presented the Medal of Honor for actions in Vietnam. Of those, 174 have been awarded to soldiers.
This story has been updated. Originally published by Military Times, our sister publication.
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