The Medal of Honor is being awarded to four Army veterans for their “acts of gallantry and intrepidity” during the Vietnam War.
President Joe Biden will present the nation’s highest military honor to Specialist 5 Dwight W. Birdwell, Major John J. Duffy, and Specialist 5 Dennis M. Fujii at a White House ceremony on Tuesday morning. Posthumously, Staff Sergeant Edward N. Kaneshiro will receive the award.
The honors are the result of US Army reviews that concluded the decorated veterans’ previous honors should be elevated to the Medal of Honor, the US military’s most prestigious award for bravery and heroism. Birdwell, a former Cherokee Nation Supreme Court justice, will be the first Native American to receive the award for action in Vietnam and the first in any conflict since 1973.
Birdwell moved directly into the line of fire on January 31, 1968, getting wounded in the process, to retrieve ammunition for his fellow soldiers.
Birdwell told ABC News that his time in the Army taught him “discipline, a greater respect for life, a greater respect for nature, and a respect for people beyond the borders of this country.”
“I was asked if I felt like a hero. I don’t feel like it, but I served with a lot of people, especially that day, and I’m proud to have served with them “Birdwell explained. “I’m completely overwhelmed by the whole thing. But, once again, I’m proud of the Cherokee people, proud of the unit I served with, and personally very pleased that it happened.”
During a battle for Fire Support Base Charlie in 1972, Duffy directed defense and facilitated his team’s air evacuation while under attack. He was the last person to board a rescue helicopter.
“It’s a tremendous honor. Each of those awards is greatly appreciated, and they recognize your efforts, your duty, and the pride you have in your combat uniform “He spoke about his nomination. “And the same disciplines that applied in battle applied in life, whether you’re a broker or any other occupation, journalist, etc. You’re focused, trying to tell a story, and trying to do your job. So you learn discipline in the military – not just the Army, but the entire military – that will serve you for the rest of your life.”
After leaving the Army, Duffy worked in publishing and finance before focusing on poetry. The works of the Pulitzer Prize nominee are inscribed on two monuments.
Fujii was the crew chief of a helicopter ambulance in February 1971. He is being recognized for his role in several evacuations and his tireless treatment of wounded Vietnamese military along the allied perimeter, despite a series of failed rescue attempts following a helicopter crash. During this time, he directed strikes and defense until his rescue.
On December 1, 1966, Kaneshiro used six grenades and a rifle to defend his squad in the trenches from enemy fire, allowing them to be successfully extricated.
On March 6, 1967, Naomi Viloria and John Kaneshiro were young children when their father was killed in action. Viloria was eight years old, and her brother, who enlisted in the Army after high school, was only four months old.
“I had never met him. So, you know, I didn’t have that father figure, but just reading about his actions in newspaper articles at the time told me he was a man of character “He stated. “So you put that all together and think, ‘Wow, you know, I hope I can be like him.'”
Viloria told ABC News that his family had nearly given up after working for decades to have his actions reviewed.
“But then, this year, right after my mother died, we were notified that his combat record was being reviewed and he could possibly be awarded the Medal of Honor,” she said, adding that the family was “overjoyed” to hear the news.
“I think for us now, our family, it’s an honor that America has suggested we recognize his selflessness, his courageousness in the face of adversity,” John Kaneshiro said. “We’re happy that he was recognized, finally.”