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Sgt Maj Canley
SgtMaj John L. Canley & the Battle of Hué Literature
  • THE GUNNY, John Ligato
  • HUÉ 1968, Mark Bowden
  • MARINES UNDER FIRE, Kenneth N. Jordan, SR.
  • FIRE IN THE STREETS, Eric Hammel


Shield.  On a disc per chevron embattled Gules and Argent, below fess point a lozenge and a mullet one point down Celeste, in chief a chevronnel Or; all within a bordure of the last.

Crest.  From a wreath of the colors Argent and Gules, a large paved stone Argent (Silver Gray), surmounted by a Ky Lan passant regardant Brün (Bronze), langued of the second, pupils and nostrils Sable, eyed, armed, and chest Argent (Eggshell), mane, whiskers, fins, and flames on tail and upper legs Azure, hooved Gris, charged above each hoof a small wispy cloud Celeste.

Supporters. On either side three bamboo stalks entwined by the ends of the scroll Proper, inner bamboo stalk slightly arched inwards, and nine more in between behind the shield.

Motto.  A scroll Gules, striped at the top and bottom Or, bearing the inscription “COURAGE UNDER FIRE” of the last.


Shield.  Gold symbolizes honor and achievement, while red signifies valor and sacrifice.  The embattled chevron alludes to Hue, Vietnam, where Gunnery Sergeant John L. Canley and his Marines fought heroically to relieve and defend friendly forces from enemy attack.  The chevron further suggests the bow of the USS JOHN L. CANLEY as seen from above, moving forward or rising up as an Expeditionary Sea Base (ESB) class ship.  The lozenge is from the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines insignia, honoring the unit and the Marines who served with Gunnery Sergeant Canley during the battle for Hue City.  The reversed blue star represents the Medal of Honor, awarded to Gunnery Sergeant Canley for his gallantry, bold determination, and devotion to his country and Marines.  The star also pays tribute to the Navy vessel USS GONZALEZ (DDG 66), named after Sergeant Alfredo Gonzalez, a Marine comrade of Gunnery Sergeant Canley, who also received the Medal of Honor for heroism during the same battle.  The chevronnel is a symbol of leadership, in which Gunnery Sergeant Canley assumed command and led the company into Hue City when his commanding officer was wounded.  The shield is also reminiscent of that employed by the 300 Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae, and Sergeant Major Canley is the 300th Marine to receive the Medal of Honor.

Crest.  The wreath adopts the first named metal and color from the shield and blazon; white and scarlet.  The Ky Lan is a sacred mythological beast native to Vietnam, also known as the Asian unicorn.  It signifies good fortune and peace, guarding temples and places of worship.  The Ky Lan stands on a paved stone as the protector of Hue City.

Supporters.  Bamboo is a symbol of vitality and resilience.  It’s a resourceful plant that carries the spirit and culture of Vietnam.  Grouped together, the bamboo suggests unity and strength in numbers.  The flexibility of the bamboo further alludes to the broad range of military operations the ESB ship class is capable of, acting as a mobile rotary-wing base, drone ops, mine-hunting, special warfare command and control platform.

Motto.  The ship’s motto, “COURAGE UNDER FIRE,” refers to Gunnery Sergeant John Canley’s brave and heroic acts of rushing into enemy fire to carry his wounded Marines to safety.    
Seal.  The coat of arms as blazoned in full color on a white oval within a Navy blue designation band, edged with a gold chain border and bearing the name “USS JOHN L. CANLEY” at the top and “ESB 6” at the base in gold.


The ship is named after John Lee Canley. He was born on December 20, 1937, in Caledonia, Arkansas. He enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1953 when he was only fifteen and retired in 1981 as a Sergeant Major.

During subsequent service in South Korea and Japan, Canley demonstrated exceptional integrity and devotion to duty, rising to the rank of Gunnery Sergeant. He shipped to Vietnam in 1967, serving with Company A, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines. He deployed on three combat tours during the Vietnam War and served as a Rifle Platoon Leader, Company Gunnery Sergeant, and Company First Sergeant.

On the morning of January 31, 1968, Gunnery Sergeant Canley and the Marines from Company A, 1st Battalion were pushing north to provide relief for other Marines trapped in the city of Hué. The ancient city of Hué had been attacked and surrounded by a large force of North Vietnamese Army units as part of the larger 1968 Tet Offensive. Unlike most of the fighting in Vietnam which took place in the jungles and rice paddies, the Battle of Hué was one of the rare battles involving urban combat.

As soon as the Marines crossed a canal just a few hundred feet inside the city, the enemy attacked them from both sides of the road. This ambush, occurring so soon after entering the city, wounded his company’s Officer. Canley, who stood six feet, four inches tall and weighed more than 240 pounds, then took command of the company. His de facto Executive Officer, Sergeant Alfredo Cantu “Freddy” Gonzalez, would stand by Canley’s side through the tough days that followed, as together they demonstrated exceptional bravery above and beyond the call of duty. During the fighting on January 31 alone, Canley rushed across fire-swept terrain to carry several wounded Marines to safety. Leading from the front, Canley performed many acts of heroism over the next week. During his time in command of the company, he led multiple attacks against entrenched enemy positions in the city while also carrying wounded Marines through hostile fire as the convoy carrying Company A pushed into the city. On February 4, Canley and Gonzalez led their men in an attack on an enemy-occupied building. Gonzalez, who had been severely wounded the previous day but refused evacuation, continued to lead from the front, single-handedly silencing enemy positions until he was mortally injured. With Canley’s endorsement, Gonzalez would receive a posthumous Medal of Honor in 1969.

During the fight on February 4, meanwhile, in the face of fierce opposition, Canley got above one strong point and dropped a satchel charge on it, which forced a retreat. Two days later, during a battle at a hospital, Canley twice scaled a wall in full view of the enemy to carry wounded Marines to safety. Enemy fire injured him twice as he worked to rescue those Marines. Through this week of unrelenting combat, the first week of the Tet Offensive, Canley is credited with saving the lives of more than twenty Marines. It took thirteen years before his Medal of Honor eventually received legislative approval – fifty years after the Battle of Hué. Canley received his Medal of Honor from President Trump on October 17, 2018. On receiving the award, he said, “It’s more about them than me…this is about the young Marines that sacrificed so much. I just happened to be their leader.”

Following retirement from the military, Canley settled in Oxnard, Calif., where he ran a business importing textiles and other goods from East Asia. He also remained devoted to physical fitness, at times working out with active-duty Marines. Canley passed away on May 11, 2022. He is survived by his daughter and the ship Sponsor, Patricia Sargent.

USS John L. Canley (ESB 6) Blue
Unit 100338, Box Number 1
FPO AP 96693



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