News Branch Navy

Navy commissions ship named for Medal of Honor recipient

John L. Canley led a company of Marines through brutal fighting in the Tet Offensive. 50 years later he received the nation's highest military honor.
Nicholas Slayton Avatar
The USS John L. Canley. In 1968 was a gunnery sergeant with Company A, First Battalion, First Marines, First Marine Division in the battle of Hue during the Tet Offensive. He was awarded the Medal of Honor in 2018. Canley died in 2022. Photo courtesy U.S. Navy, Photo by Cpl. Daisha Ramirez.

The U.S. Navy’s newest ship officially entered service this weekend. The USS John L. Canley is an expeditionary sea base, a kind of mobile command and control and dock. It’s also named for Sgt. Maj. John L. Canley, an African-American Marine Corps veteran who earned the Medal of Honor for his actions at the Battle of Hue City in 1968 during the Vietnam War.

The ceremony a tNaval Air Station North Island, Calif. was attended by more than 1,000 people, including military leaders such as Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro, Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Carlos Ruiz and the commander of the new ship, Capt. Thomas Mays.

Born in 1937, Canley joined the Marine Corps in 1953. He would deploy three times to Vietnam, serving several roles. It was in the start of 1968, while serving as a gunnery sergeant with Company A, First Battalion, First Marines, First Marine Division that Canley would carry out his most notable actions. The Tet Offensive had started, with North Vietnamese soldiers rushing and seizing much of the city of Hue. Canley and Company A moved in to relieve pinned down Americans. Over the course of several days the Marines fought through the city, retaking it bit by bit. After the company commander was wounded, Canley took over the company and put himself at risk multiple times to rescue wounded Marines. He himself was wounded but continued to lead attacks on North Vietnamese positions. 

Canley was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions, but comrades pushed for it to be upgraded to a Medal of Honor. The cause gained Congressional support and in 2018 he was given the nation’s highest military honor, half a century after the battle. Canley became the only living Black Marine to receive the Medal of Honor; all previous recipients were posthumously awarded it. 

“While the legacy of African American service members in the sea services spans centuries, their stories often went untold, and they often did not receive the recognition they deserved,” Del Toro said.

Subscribe to Task & Purpose Today. Get the latest military news and culture in your inbox daily.

Canley died in 2022 at the age of 84 after a battle with cancer. Soon after his death, the Navy christened the ship that would bear his name. Surviving members from Canley’s company attended the ceremony this weekend, which saw the crew start the ship’s first watch and a 19-gun salute.

The Canley is one of the Lewis B. Puller-class expeditionary sea base ships, essentially floating operating bases. Smaller than aircraft carriers, they are able to serve as a dock, flight deck and staging area for Navy assets at sea. At the ceremony, Del Toro called it a “warfighting ship, which may [be] called to sail into harm’s way one day.” He also praised Canley’s service

Now that it is in service, the USS John L. Canley will operate with the Navy’s Forward Deployed Naval Force, based out of Saipan.

Officials also praised the workers who helped build the new expeditionary sea base. 

“To anyone who had anything to do with the building of this ship, I say, ‘The Marines are ready to get on it, and get to it!’” Ruiz said. 

The latest on Task & Purpose

  • The Air Force wants retirees to help fill gaps in the service
  • Navy allows sailors to put hands in pockets as hell freezes over
  • The Army’s next-gen combat helmet is now arriving with soldiers
  • Navy now allows sailors to wear leggings under PT shorts
  • Legendary Marine Scout Sniper Chuck Mawhinney dies at age 75