Dwight Wayne Birdwell
Medal of Honor Recipient
Specialist 5 Dwight W. Birdwell was born in Amarillo, Texas, 19 January 1948, grew up in the small rural town of Bell in Adair County, Oklahoma, and graduated from Stilwell High School in 1966. He is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. He entered the Army 24 May 1966, earning two Silver Stars and two Purple Hearts for his courageous action and leadership in Vietnam.
Birdwell was assigned to Troop C, 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry, 25th Infantry Division. SP5 Birdwell received the Silver Star for heroism on 31 January 1968 when his unit raced to defend Tan Son Nhut Air Base which was under Communist attack during the Tet Offensive. Cavalry Troop C was the first American ground unit from outside the airbase to respond to the attack. Birdwell's tank commander was seriously wounded. Birdwell took command and placed intense fire on the enemy until his ammunition was expended. He retrieved an M-60 machine gun and continued shooting at the enemy until the weapon was damaged by enemy fire, which also wounded Birdwell. With disregard for his own safety, he ran through a hail of enemy fire to get more ammunition for his men from other damaged vehicles. "His actions contributed to success of the mission," his Silver Star citation stated.
On 4 July 1968 he again risked his life to rescue more Americans, some of them wounded, who were stranded in a battle zone. Seeing a damaged Army Personnel Carrier, he exposed himself to heavy enemy fire to load all the wounded and evacuate them to safety. He went back to rescue more Americans. He was awarded his second Silver Star for bravery.
Judge Birdwell was a member of the Judicial Appeals Tribunal (Supreme Court) of the Cherokee Nation 1987-1999, serving as its chief justice 1995–1996 and 1998–1999. He is now a practicing attorney in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
The Silver Star SP5 Dwight Birdwell earned for his bravery on 31 January 1968 was upgraded to the Congressional Medal of Honor and awarded 5 July 2022, by President Joseph Biden, Jr.
The citation reads as follows:
Specialist Five Dwight W. Birdwell distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty while serving with C Troop, 3d Squadron, 4th Cavalry, 25th Infantry Division in the Republic of Vietnam on 31 January, 1968. On this date, C Troop was ordered to move south to help repel an enemy attack on Tan Son Nhut Airbase. As the C Troop column of tanks and armored personnel carriers approached the west gate of Tan Son Nhut Airbase, it came under intense enemy fire from a building to its right. Unbeknown to C Troop, it had driven directly into an enemy force consisting of three battalions. The column tried to push through the initial attack but the lead tank, crippled by a rocket-propelled grenade explosion, was blocking the way forward. C Troop immediately came under heavy enemy fire from both sides of the road. Specialist Five Birdwell, upon seeing that his tank commander was wounded by enemy fire, immediately went to his aid. Under intense enemy fire, he lowered the injured tank commander to the ground, and moved him to safety. Specialist Five Birdwell then, with complete disregard for his own safety, mounted the tank and assumed the tank commander's position. Standing in the tank commander's hatch with the upper half of his body exposed to heavy enemy fire, Specialist Five Birdwell used the tank's .50 caliber machine gun and 90mm main gun to suppress the enemy attack. With the ammunition for the 90mm main gun exhausted, he continued to fire the .50 caliber machine gun until it overheated. At this point, Specialist Five Birdwell, rather than abandoning his position, continued to engage the enemy with his M-16 rifle, sometimes exposing his entire body to enemy fire in order to engage the enemy from a better vantage point. When a U.S. helicopter crashed nearby, Specialist Five Birdwell, under withering enemy fire, dismounted and moved to the helicopter where he retrieved two M-60 machine guns and ammunition. After giving one M-60 and ammunition to a fellow soldier, he remounted his tank and used the other M-60 to again engage the enemy. Specialist Five Birdwell continued to engage the enemy with complete disregard for his own safety until the M-60 he was firing was hit by enemy fire. Specialist Five Birdwell, now wounded in the face, neck, chest, and arms, dismounted the tank but refused to be medically evacuated. Instead, Specialist Five Birdwell, under enemy fire, rallied fellow soldiers to advance toward the front of the armored column where they set up a defensive position by a large tree. From this position, he and the other soldiers engaged the enemy with M-16 fire and grenades. As the enemy fire lessened, Specialist Five Birdwell gathered ammunition from disabled vehicles and helped wounded soldiers move to safer positions. His leadership and tenacity under fire inspired the other C Troop soldiers to continue fighting against the superior enemy force, and directly contributed to the enemy's ultimate defeat. Specialist Five Birdwell's extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.