President Joe Biden on Tuesday awarded medals of honor to four military veterans who fought in the Vietnam War, upgrading previous honors received for their acts of gallantry.
The individuals who received the medal – the most prestigious decoration in the US military – were Staff Sergeant Edward N. Kaneshiro, Specialist Five Dwight W. Birdwell, Specialist Five Dennis M. Fuji and retired Major John J. Duffy is.
“They stood in the way of danger, risking everything to protect our country and our values,” Biden said during the ceremony at the White House. “However, not every service member has received the full recognition they deserve. Today we are setting the record straight. We are upgrading the awards to four servicemen who have performed acts of incredible gallantry during the Vietnam conflict.”
The president said it has been a long journey – more than 50 years – for those veterans and their families. “But time has shown his astonishing bravery, his selflessness in putting the lives of others ahead of our own and we as a nation are grateful to him,” he said.
In 1966, Kaneshiro and members of his platoon were attacked by North Vietnamese when they entered a village on a search-and-destroy mission. According to the White House, “Kaneshiro destroyed one enemy group with rifle fire and two others with grenades, enabling the systematic removal and reorganization of the platoon and ultimately a successful withdrawal from the village.” Kaneshiro, who was killed in action three months after the incident for which he is being awarded, will receive the award posthumously.
“Your family sacrificed so much for our country,” Biden told Kaneshiro’s family. “I know that no award can ever make up for the loss of your father and his not being there when you grew up. But I hope today you will feel a little proud and relieved to know that his valor is finally getting the full recognition it always deserved.
Before receiving the award from his father, Kaneshiro’s son told Nation World News that his father’s story inspired his own career in the military.
“Just to imagine … for him to be just selfless and jump into the fire just like that. It inspired me … to live what he has done,” said John Kaneshiro.
Birdwell, a former Supreme Court judge of the Cherokee Nation, received the medal for his actions in January 1968.
On the first day at an airport near Saigon known as the Tet Offensive, Birdwell and his unit were attacked by North Vietnamese. According to the White House, during the fire, he escorted a tank commander to safety and fired the tank’s weapons at enemy forces. When the tank’s armament was exhausted, he disembarked and accompanied by a comrade went into a downed helicopter to retrieve ammunition and machine guns. Birdwell’s machine gun exploded when hit by enemy shells, injuring his face and torso, but he refused to evacuate and led a small group to intercept the attackers. He then helped evacuate the wounded until he was ordered to receive attention for his injuries.
“I did the job I was trained for. I felt like I had to. It was a matter of duty. And I did my duty to the best of my ability,” said Birdwell. “I’ve thought a thousand times that I Why survived and why some others could not, but I have thought that when I go for justice, if I have courage, I will ask this question to God.”
Biden described how it took “decades” for Birdwell’s commanding officer, General Glenn Otis, to realize that he “didn’t get the full respect he had earned.” But in retirement, Biden said, “Gen. Otis made sure to correct the record and fully document Birdwell’s actions to make this day possible.”
Fuji received the medal for his actions during a helicopter ambulance rescue in Laos and Vietnam over four days in February 1971.
According to the White House, while on board a helicopter during a mission to evacuate seriously injured Vietnamese military personnel, the plane overcame enemy fire and was forced to ground. As he was wounded, Fuji flew another helicopter and was the only American left behind on the battlefield. He repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire, gave first aid to allies and called in American helicopter gunships to repel enemy attacks.
Duffy received the award in April 1972 for his acts in Vietnam.
Wounded at his battalion’s destroyed command post in South Vietnam, where the battalion commander was killed, Duffy refused to evacuate. There, he “led a two-day defense of the surrounded FSB against an enemy force the size of a battalion,” according to the US military. He exposed himself to the enemy for air strikes and was again wounded when hit by fragments of rifle rounds. But Duffy stayed on, directing helicopter gunships into enemy anti-aircraft and artillery positions. He then personally ensured that the wounded soldiers were taken to a safe place and ammunition was distributed. And during a ground attack by enemy forces, Duffy moved several times to find the target. Later, he led more wounded soldiers to be evacuated “in constant pursuit by the enemy”, the military said.
Biden also described how as his airship was preparing to depart, one of Duffy’s Vietnamese aides was shot in the leg, “causing him to fall backwards from the helicopter.”
“Major. Duffy grabbed her and pulled her back on board, saving another life along the way,” he continued.
Duffy, now 84, was stationed in Vietnam four times, racking up 64 awards and decorations—including 29 for gallantry, four Bronze Stars, eight Purple Hearts, and seven Air Medals.
“You’re honored to do your duty, and it doesn’t matter risk or danger. You’re there to perform. And as long as you do that, you’re in control,” Duffy awarded the Medal of Honor Said before.
Tuesday’s ceremony comes a week after the last surviving World War II Medal of Honor recipient, Herschel W. “Woody” Williams, died at the age of 98. Williams will lie in honor at the US Capitol.