Medal of Honor recipient recalls pulling fellow Marines to safety in ferocious battle

WASHINGTON — At 80 years old and looking as though he could still lead Marines into combat, retired Sgt. Maj. John Canley received the Medal of Honor at the White House on Wednesday for his actions in the 1968 Battle of Hue in Vietnam.

"I can't think of any other way or reason or where I would rather die than with my Marines," Canley said in an interview, adding that it never crossed his mind that he might die that day.

Canley was leading his Marines into the teeth of a North Vietnamese ambush on the southern outskirts of Hue.

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Retired Sgt. Maj. John Canley U.S. Marine Corps

"My troops would follow me to death, so if they are in a position where they might die, what am I supposed to do?" he said.

According to statements submitted by his men, what he did was repeatedly expose himself to enemy fire to pull wounded Marines to safety.

"They're alive, right? So I'm going to try to get to them," Canley said.

Eyewitnesses saw him pull at least 10 wounded Marines to safety, charge a machine gun that had them pinned down and deliberately expose himself to fire in order to pinpoint enemy locations. But he hates being singled out from all the Marines who did their time in Vietnam.

"When you look at what type of a war and what type of recognition they received — nothing. That really offends me," he said.

The Marines who followed him into battle, Canley says, were the source of his courage.

"Knowing they were 100 percent behind me, fear never existed."

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.