On July 5, 2022, four Vietnam Veterans received Medals of Honor for actions during the war. Three of the Medals of Honor recipients are still living, 1 was honored posthumously.
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Staff Sgt. Edward N. Kaneshiro – Dec 1, 1966 “Just serving his country”
SSG Kaneshiro and his infantry squad were on a search and destroy mission near the village of Phu Huu. They were unaware that the North Vietnamese enemy had fortified trenches in the area.When they opened fire and pinned down other troops, Sgt Kaneshiro led his troops toward the gunfire. Upon arriving, he assessed that it was coming from a trench that contained a force that severely outnumbered his own.
Under ‘withering’ fire, Kaneshiro crawled to the trench and lobbed several grenades inside, taking out the machine gunner. Then he entered the trench by himself and with his M16 and more grenades, he single-handedly cleared the trench, enabling his squad to retrieve the dead and wounded. He was killed in March, 1967 while trying to evacuate a fellow soldier.
“Sometimes I try to imagine what [my dad] went through, like would I be able to do that? It’s very inspiring that he was just fearless or maybe he had fear but did it anyway. That takes a lot of courage, to do that alone. Since he was so humble, I believe in his mind he was just serving his country.”Naomi Viloria, Kaneshiro’s daughter
Spc 5th Class Dwight Birdwell 1-31-1968- the TET Offensive
Tan Son Nhut Air Base was supposed to be up against a small contingent of an inexperienced enemy. It turned out to be an ambush by hundreds of Viet Cong troops. Spc 5 Birdwell and his men ended up in a “horseshoe-shaped” ambush with 700 enemies on one side and 300 on the other. When the Tank commander of Birdwell’s unit was hit, he immediately moved him to safety and assumed his position in the tank.
He provided situation reports to his squadron leader and fired every weapon at his disposal, launching volleys from the tank’s cannon, machine gun and his rifle until all the ammunition was spent. Birdwell then dismounted and found his way to a downed American helicopter, retrieving two M60 machine guns and ammunition.
With another soldier, Birdwell continued the firefight from the top of a tank until the enemy blew his gun out of his hands. The explosion wounded Birdwell in the face and torso.Stripes
He never quit. He ignored the wounds and kept fighting, exposing himself to great risk. He led a small group of men behind enemy lines and threw grenades from behind a large tree until reinforcements arrived and he was ordered to evacuate. Five months later, he again exposed himself to risk when loading troops into a damaged personel carrier and then went back for others.
Birdwell is a Native American, who rose to become the Chief Justice of the Cherokee Nation Judicial Appeals Tribunal. He is now a practicing lawyer in Oklahoma City.
Spc 5th Class Dennis Fujii – Feb 18, 1971
Spc Fujii was a crew chief aboard a Medevac helicopter when a contingent of South Vietnamese allies called for help. But as the helicopter arrived, the battlefield was thick smoke from artillery and mortars. They made several passes over the zone before enemy fire ripped through the helicopter as it touched down. As Fujii and other crew members brought the soldiers onboard, mortar rounds brought the aircraft “crashing to the ground.”
When another helicopter came in through the barrage of enemy fire, a mortar round went off near Fujii, injuring his shoulder. Then shrapnel hit him in the eye. He knew he couldn’t make it from his position to the helicopter so he waved it off. He was the only American in that section of South Vietnamese soldiers- so he spent the night tending to their wounds. Then he found a radio and spent the next 17 hours calling in helicopter gunships to help defend the allies from the vastly larger amount of enemy troops.
When the next helicopter as able to land an evacuate the rest, it was short-lived. Enemy fire forced the helicopter to make an emergency landing just 2 miles away at another South Vietnamese base. He was finally able to be evacuated on Feb 22, 1971.
“I’d do it all over again. I thought it was part of a young man’s obligation to our country. After all, freedom doesn’t come lightly and it doesn’t come cheap and I thought that I should do my fair share.”Spc 5th Class Dennis Fujii
Major John Duffy – Fire Support Base Charlie in Kontum Province of South Vietnam April 14-15, 1972
As a Special Forces officer, Maj Duffy was advising South Vietnamese paratroopers when the Siege of Fire Support Base Charlie erupted. Though suffering from a concussion from the 24 hour bombardment of the enemy, he chose to stay instead of leave.
For hours, Duffy directed aircraft at enemy positions, and redistributed ammunition from troops who had been removed to safety. He shifted from position to position to coordinate airstrikes and treat wounded South Vietnamese soldiers. When the enemy came within 10 meters of his position, he called an airstrike on the position…which was almost fatal to himself.
In the early hours of April 15, the enemy rushed the South Vietnamese battalion and inflicted more casualties. Duffy helped hold off the ambush and with the enemy in pursuit, led the remaining service members, many of them heavily injured, on a nighttime escape down a mountain.
At the evacuation site, Duffy marked a landing zone for a helicopter and fended off the enemy for an hour. He was the last man to board the helicopter, remaining behind to adjust aircraft covering the evacuating troops until the last possible moment.
“They wanted me to get on first. I said, ‘I’ll be the last man out,’” Duffy said. “I had the radio, there was no other choice.”Stripes
All of the Medals of Honor today were the products of re-evaluation from lower medals. But the courage of the men is still the same.
Featured screenshot US Army Twitter — Left to right clockwise: Dwight Birdwell, Dennis Fujii, Edward Kaneshiro, and John Duffy.
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