Oklahoma Veteran Receives Medal Of Honor For Actions During Vietnam War

Tuesday, July 5th 2022, 5:18 pm


President Biden gave nation's highest military recognition, the Medal of Honor, Tuesday to four U.S. Army soldiers, including one from Oklahoma, who demonstrated conspicuous 'gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of their own lives' during the Vietnam War. 

The recipients were Staff Sgt. Edward Kaneshiro, Spc. Dennis Fujii, Maj. John J. Duffy, and Spc. Dwight Birdwell, a Cherokee Nation citizen and Oklahoma City resident. Kaneshiro's medal was awarded posthumously. 

"They stood in the way of danger," the president said. "Risked everything -- literally everything -- to defend our nation and our values. However, not every service member has received the full recognition they deserve. Today, we're setting the record straight. We're upgrading the awards of four soldiers who performed acts of incredible heroism during the Vietnam conflict." 

Specialist Birdwell had already received the Silver Star for valor in combat. But upon more recent review, it was determined that Birdwell’s actions during the 1968 Tet Offensive were worthy of greater recognition. 

Serving in the 25th Infantry Division's 4th Calvary, Birdwell's troop was ordered help repel an enemy attack near Tan Son Nhut Air Base January 31, 1968. 

"Cavalry Troop C was the first American ground unit from outside the airbase to respond to the attack." reads the summary of his actions on the U.S. Army's Medal of Honor web page. 

"When Birdwell's tank commander was seriously wounded," it continues, "Birdwell took command and placed intense fire on the enemy until his ammunition was expended. He then retrieved an M-60 machine gun and continued firing at the enemy until the weapon was damaged by enemy fire, which also wounded Birdwell. With disregard for his own safety, he ran through a hail of enemy fire to get more ammunition for his men from other damaged vehicles." 

President Biden today made special note of the fact that Birdwell refused to let his own injuries keep him from continuing to fight to safeguard his men and neutralize the North Vietnamese attack. 

"When he was ordered to load onto the medevac helicopter, he complied," Biden recounted, "[but] this I find amazing -- only to crawl right back off the other side, to keep on fighting." 

Among the dozens of friends, family and supporters attending the ceremony was Chuck Hoskin, Jr., Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation 

"What a well-deserved honor," Chief Hoskin said in an interview afterward, "if you just think about his story and his acts of heroism." 

Hoskin wrote a letter on Birdwell's behalf when he was first elected in 2019. He says, growing up, he knew Birdwell primarily because he was a justice on the Cherokee Nation's Supreme Court for a dozen years. 

"I just admired him initially as a justice of our Supreme Court -- his wonderful demeanor, the right temperament," Hoskin said, "and then you start to learn more about his story and it’s remarkable." 

Birdwell earned a law degree from the University of Oklahoma and then started his own law firm in Oklahoma City. 

Biden noted that, based on percentage, more Native Americans serve in the United States military than any other racial or ethnic cohort, and Hoskin says Birdwell perfectly captures that belief in serving the nation. 

"He’s an example of a Native American who sort of ran towards the battle in such a real way," said Chief Hoskin, "but for generations Native peoples have done that in different ways."