President Joe Biden on Tuesday bestowed the nation’s highest military honor on four Army soldiers for their heroism above and beyond the call of duty during the Vietnam War.
Biden is presenting the Medal of Honor to Staff Sgt. Edward N. Kaneshiro, Specialist Five Dwight W. Birdwell, Specialist Five Dennis M. Fujii, and Major John J. Duffy. Speaking in the East Room of the White House, Biden praised their heroism and lamented that they hadn’t received appropriate recognition until now.
“Not every service member has received the full recognition they deserve,” Biden said. “Today, we’re setting the record straight.”
Recounting their battlefield service, Biden said they “went far and above the call of duty.”
“More than 50 years have passed since the jungles of Vietnam,” Biden added. “But time has not diminished their bravery.”
Kaneshiro died in 1967 of a gunshot wound in Vietnam and is being given the award posthumously for a Dec. 1, 1966 raid, where his unit came under fire by North Vietnamese troops. His actions were credited with helping his unit withdraw from the village where they were fighting.
Birdwell, now a lawyer in Oklahoma City, is being honored for his actions in helping to head off an assault and evacuate wounded at Tan Son Nhut Airbase near Saigon on Jan. 31, 1968, despite injuries to his torso and face.
He is the first Native American who fought in the Vietnam conflict to receive a Medal of Honor.
"What it means to me," Birdwell told NBC News, "is through this award, I bring respect and dignity to the Cherokee people, and let others know that we have served and continue to serve the United States in war and peace and in time of need."
"Cherokee people have always done that and I’ve carried on that tradition. And I’m very proud of being Cherokee and I hope Cherokees are proud of me."
Fujii is being given the medal for actions over four days in February 1971 treating wounded and directing air strikes against enemy positions after his air ambulance was forced to crash land.
Duffy’s medal is for leading troops who came under ambush after their commander was killed in action, repelling attackers and evacuating wounded, despite his own injuries.
Duffy carried four radios and called in dozens of U.S. airstrikes, repeatedly putting himself in danger.
“I was very serious about being able to communicate because all I had to offer was airpower,” Duffy told NBC News.
Enemy bullets came so close his radio was shot off his back.
"All I did was literally went to work, did my job, made the best decisions. I was never frightened during that whole procedure. And the reason was, I was confident I knew what I could do."
Biden said that on reaching the exfiltration site, Duffy made sure he was the last to board the helicopter. Then one of his Vietnamese allies was shot in the foot, causing him to fall backward out of the helicopter.
"Major Duffy caught him and dragged him back in on board with him, saving one more life along the way,” said Biden.
Duffy would later turn to literature, publishing six books of poetry. He was once nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
“He is the definition of a warrior poet,” said Biden.