WASHINGTON (KFOR) – President Joe Biden awarded Cherokee Nation citizen Dwight Birdwell the Medal of Honor on Tuesday for his valor and heroism as he saved the lives of fellow soldiers amid an intense firefight during the Vietnam War’s Tet Offensive.
“Not every service member has received the full recognition they deserve,” Biden said during the Medal of Honor ceremony. “Today, we are setting the record straight.”
Specialist Five Birdwell was a soldier with Troop C, 3rd Squadron, 4th Calvary, 25th Infantry Division when enemy forces launched an ambush in Saigon on Jan. 31, 1968.
The tank he was a crew member in took fire, and his commander was shot in the head.
Birdwell pulled his commander out of the tank and passed him over the side for medical treatment, keeping him alive, according to an article on the U.S. Army’s website.
Confusion and pandemonium intensified, but Birdwell was not daunted. He took command of the tank, firing rounds to keep the enemy back. The tank ran out of ammunition, but Birdwell kept up the fight. He leapt from the tank, ran to a downed U.S. helicopter, grabbed one of its M-60 machine guns and returned to his previous position. He fired rounds at the enemy until something hit the machine gun, spraying shrapnel into his face and chest, according to the Army article.
Birdwell remained on the battlefield until reinforcements arrived. He then helped evacuate wounded soldiers.
“Mr. Birdwell is someone I deeply respect, not only for his service to our Tribal Nation, but also for his service to our country,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr., who attended the White House Medal of Honor ceremony. “Honoring his heroic deeds and bestowing the Medal of Honor to him is the right thing to do for his valiant actions during the Vietnam War. He is a true Cherokee patriot who put his own life at risk without hesitation and expected no commendation.”
Hoskin wrote a letter of support to U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and Oklahoma’s state and federal leaders in May 2021, calling for Birdwell to receive the Medal of Honor, according to Cherokee Nation officials.
Cherokee Nation Secretary of Veteran Affairs S. Joe Crittenden wrote First Lady Dr. Jill Biden in March, asking her to support Birdwell receiving the honor.
“Mr. Birdwell is a decorated Vietnam veteran who served in the U.S. Army and was later awarded for his extraordinary heroism in multiple battles in 1968,” said Cherokee Nation Secretary of Veteran Affairs S. Joe Crittenden. “He is a longtime servant to the Cherokee people and a highly-respected citizen of the Cherokee Nation, and I am proud to say on a personal level that Dwight is a dear friend. He is deserving of this award and is a true Cherokee Warrior.”
Birdwell, a 74-year-old native of the Bell community in Adair County, said the honor of the military’s highest award goes beyond him.
“I’m overwhelmed. Receiving the Medal of Honor is a validation of a long-standing tradition of Cherokee people — men and women — serving not only to protect and defend the United States, but the Cherokee people as well,” Birdwell said. “It gives validation to that tradition. It’s not about me; it also brings honor to those I served with who died in battle. It’s as much for them as it is for me. The big thing is that I’m so proud of being a Cherokee citizen and bringing honor to the Cherokee Nation and the Cherokee people.”
Birdwell is also a recipient of two Silver Stars and a Purple Heart.
Biden presented the Medal of Honor to three other U.S. Army Vietnam War veterans Tuesday, including Staff Sgt. Edward N. Kaneshiro, posthumous; Specialist Five Dennis M. Fujii; and retired Major John J. Duffy, according to Cherokee Nation officials.
Birdwell carried the excellence he showed on the battlefield into his civilian life, serving on the Cherokee Nation’s highest court from 1987 to 1999. He currently practices law in Oklahoma City.