In his youth Sgt. Maj. John L. Canley stepped in after his commander in Vietnam was severely wounded, saving fellow Marines while knowingly exposing himself to enemy fire.
Canley led a Marine convoy through “arduous conditions in a highly contested environment to provide relief to fellow Marines, while relentlessly attacking the enemy,” said Sergeant Major David Wilson of the First Marine Division in a speech.
“He was wounded. He refused evacuation. He ran across fire swept terrain, to save his Marines over and over. He carried them on his back,” Wilson said.
The late Canley, the first Black Marine to receive the Medal of Honor while living, was celebrated Saturday with a christening of an Expeditionary Sea Base ship named after him.
Canley rescued more than 20 fellow Marines under enemy fire in Vietnam in what was called “one of the bloodiest battles” in 1968 in the Battle of Hue City. Besides the Medal of Honor, Canley also received the Bronze Star with Combat “V” and the Purple Heart.
The USNS John L. Canley represents Canley’s courage, selflessness and strength, said Dave Carver, president of General Dynamics NASSCO in a morning ceremony at NASSCO on the San Diego waterfront.
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Canley, 84, died of cancer May 11 in Bend, Oregon. His daughter was present as ship sponsor.
Fellow Medal of Honor recipients and military leaders, along with the future crew, also were present at the ceremony alongside the 784-foot ship.
Robert Thompson, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for installations, energy and facilities, called the ship a “critical asset” and praised Canley for his “doubtless courage, selfless sacrifice and unwavering devotion to duty in my mind (which) will be the guiding light for this ship and her crew.”
Expeditionary Sea Base ships are highly flexible platforms that can be used across a broad range of military operations, including Airborne Mine Countermeasures, Special Operations Forc and limited crisis response.
Acting as a mobile sea base, these ships have a 52,000-square–foot flight deck to support MH-53, MH-60, V22 tilt rotor and H1 aircraft operations as well as launch and recovery of unmanned aerial systems.
Its sustained speed is less than 15 knots with a maximum speed of 17 knots.
Said Patricia A. Sargent, Canley’s daughter: “It comes down to one very simple thing, and that’s choice. We all have to be positive … all have to have the courage. That’s what brings our success.”
She concluded: “And his hope is that every member, every captain, that runs the ship, makes that choice to be positive and … have courage in every mission that they’re given.”
The USNS Robert E. Simanek, the next in the series of ESB 7 ships, is under construction at NASSCO.