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Learning from the Old Breed: Sgt. Maj. John Canley visits 31st MEU, III MEF

December 16, 2019

This report originally publishes at marines.mil.

Retired Sgt. Maj. John Canley, Medal of Honor recipient, spoke to Marines and Sailors of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit and the III Marine Expeditionary Force on Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan last week. Gathered units attended the event as a professional military education event to further learn how to excel as warfighters.

“You’ve got to take care of your Marines. If they come to you with a problem, you need to take care of that…if you take care of your Marines they will do everything in their power to make sure the mission is accomplished.” Retired Sgt. Maj. John Canley, Medal of Honor recipient

Canley was awarded the U.S. military’s highest distinction in Oct. 2018 for actions at the Battle of Hue City while serving as the Company Gunnery Sgt. of Company A, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, 1st Marine Division. During events from Jan. 31 to Feb. 6, 1968, in multiple instances, Canley disregarded his own personal welfare to ensure the safety of his Marines and the accomplishment of the mission. After his company commander was severely wounded, Canley took charge of the company and fought off numerous vicious enemy attacks. While under Canley’s charge the company took critical objectives in Hue City. Despite being wounded in engagements with the enemy, Canley rushed across enemy fire to carry multiple wounded Marines to safety. He inspired courage in his Marines throughout the course of the grueling week-long battle. He is one of three living Marine Medal of Honor Recipients.

Canley now travels to Marine Corps installations worldwide to speak with Marines and observe the progress of an ever-evolving Marine Corps.

191210-M-IB436-1066 Photo by Lance Cpl. Joshua Sechser

“The Marine Corps today has smarter Marines, the best equipment money can buy, and our leadership is second to none,” said Canley to III MEF Marines on Camp Hansen during the open discussion on the importance of mentorship and leadership in the Marine Corps. Canley is a firm believer in caring for young Marines.

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During his 28-year career in the Marine Corps, Canley fell in love with the undying spirit and discipline possessed by Marines.

“Every Marine in here has the heart. It doesn’t matter who the enemy is; you will defeat them. I’m sure of that. Everyone in here is a volunteer… That means the Marine Corps is right here,” Canley said, pointing to his heart. Canley expanded on how he tried to instill spirit into his Marines by giving them guidance.

“Any young Marine wants to know your expectations. That way they are better able to give you 100%… at the end of the day you may be the one evaluating that Marine on his performance. They need to know the standard you expect,” Canley stated. He expressed his love for training Marines while he served, identifying Marines in the room to give examples of times when they have reached out for advice from their superiors.

As a firm believer in setting an example as an enlisted leader, Canley answered further questions on the topic of quality leadership.

“I think that each Marine here learned from the Marines that are senior to them, little things that they’re going to do and things that they are not going to do… you as an individual need to take the things that are best for you and apply them to your leadership.” Absorbing information, knowledge and experience from those such as Canley, who have come before us, molds us into stronger, more capable leaders to our subordinates.

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