First member of Cherokee Nation receives Medal of Honor for bravery in Vietnam War

Published: Jul. 5, 2022 at 4:03 PM EDT

WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Specialist Five John Birdwell had just witnessed enemy fire take his tank commander off the battlefield during the Tet Offensive, and the future Medal of Honor recipient knew he needed to step up.

Birdwell began firing the tanks weapons back at the enemy squad while bringing the tank commander to safety.

“I had a job to do,” said Birdwell, shortly before receiving the Medal of Honor. “If it meant dying doing that job, then I had to die.”

Birdwell eventually jumped out of his tank and took on enemy fire. Birdwell retrieved an M-60 machine gun and returned fire before bullets damaged the gun and struck Birdwell in the face and chest.

“How did I survive under all that fire?” Birdwell still wonders today. " And it comes back to one simple response. By the blessing of God.”

Birdwell eventually ran through enemy fire to retrieve more ammunition for his men, and his counterattack helped buy enough time for reinforcements to arrive.

“If you let fear overtake you, it will control you, and you won’t be able to do anything,” Birdwell said. “If you control the fear, then you can move on and do your job.”

After serving in the military, Birdwell became a Cherokee justice.

Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin took notice of Birdwell’s life work and joined in the nomination process.

“I saw this man Dwight Birdwell with just this really calm demeanor in the midst of what were challenging legal times for the Cherokee Nation,” Hoskin said.

Birdwell still practices law in Oklahoma City. He was one of four people President Joe Biden awarded the Medal of Honor Tuesday, July 5.

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