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Cherokee Nation citizen receives Medal of Honor from President Biden

Cherokee Nation citizen Dwight Birdwell is the first Native American to receive the Medal of Honor for his heroic service during the Vietnam War.
Credit: Cherokee Nation
Birdwell/Biden for press release

WASHINGTON D.C., DC — After President Joe Biden awarded him the military’s highest recognition Tuesday, July 5, Cherokee Nation citizen Dwight Birdwell, 74, became the first Native American to receive the Medal of Honor for his heroic service during the Vietnam War.

“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.”

Specialist Five Birdwell was a soldier with Troop C, 3rd Squadron, 4th Calvary, 25th Infantry Division and was present during the Jan. 31, 1968 attack in Saigon. 

While under enemy fire, Birdwell’s tank commander was incapacitated and many of the unit’s vehicles were disabled or destroyed. Birdwell, who was wounded, moved the tank commander to safety, took command and continued fighting. Birdwell fought until receiving enemy fire to his face and torso, and when he ran out of ammunition,  he remained on the battlefield until reinforcement arrived. Birdwell then aided in evacuating the wounded.

“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, who is also s also a recipient of two Silver Stars and a Purple Heart, joins only 3,800 service men and women since the Civil War awarded the Medal of Honor, including a handful of Cherokees, including Jack C. Montgomery and John Noah Reese for their service in World War II.

Birdwell is a former Cherokee Nation Supreme Court Chief Justice and served on the Cherokee Nation’s highest court from 1987 to 1999. Today, he continues to practice law in Oklahoma City.

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