• Tue. Sep 26th, 2023


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John L. Canley, Belated Medal of Honor Recipient, Dies at 84

According to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, all previous Black Marines given the medal had received it posthumously.

John Lee Canley was born on Dec. 20, 1937, in Caledonia, Ark., and raised in nearby El Dorado. His father, J.M. Canley, worked at a chemical plant. His mother, Leola (Cobb) Canley, managed a restaurant.

Sergeant Major Canley’s marriage to Viktoria Fenech ended in divorce. In addition to his daughter and a stepson, David Fenech, from that marriage, his survivors include two children from a relationship with Toyo Adaniya Russeau, Ricky Canley and Yukari Canley; two sisters; a brother; and three grandchildren.

Inspired to enlist in the Marines after watching the 1949 John Wayne movie “Sands of Iwo Jima,” he served three combat tours in Vietnam as a rifle platoon leader, company gunnery sergeant and company first sergeant.

Sergeant Major Canley’s other awards included the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal (each with the combat “V,” signifying valor in combat) and the Combat Action Ribbon. In 2020, the U.S.S. John L. Canley, a mobile sea base, was named in his honor.

He retired from the Marines in 1981 and settled in Oxnard, Calif., where he ran a textile import business.

“This honor is for all of the Marines with whom I served,” Sergeant Major Canley said in an interview with Military.com on the occasion of receiving the Medal of Honor. “The only thing I was doing was taking care of troops best I could. Do that, and everything else takes care of itself.”