Larry Adair, former Oklahoma Speaker of the House of Representatives and a Vietnam veteran, said Dwight Birdwell is most deserving of the Congressional Medal of Honor, and if selected, he will join the ranks of heroic Native Americans who received this recognition.
“I grew up with Dwight; we’re lifelong friends. He was two years younger – my brother Joe’s age, Class of 66,” said Adair.
"The Battle of Saigon: Tet 1968" is a great book to read, with vivid description of Birdwell's contribution, said Adair.
“It is justification for him being considered for the Medal of Honor. It’s my understanding he should have been recommended for the Congressional Medal of Honor,” Adair said.
He left Adair County the day after high school graduation.
“When I went to Vietnam in May of 1970, they were still talking about the Battle of Saigon. Some of the Army veterans said it was very scary, and the enemy, the Viet Cong, really intended to over run the country and defeat the U.S. troops and all their allies,” said Adair.
It was one of the battles that turned the tide.
“If we hadn’t won that battle, we might not have won the war,” he said.
Adair recalls his own experiences, and the culture shock of eventually landing on the base after circling in the air while a battle was waged. When they finally landed, it was sweltering hot at 6 a.m.
“For a 19-year-old, or 20, when the battle happened, it’s almost unbelievable, he said.
“John is quite reserved, a very private person, so he doesn’t talk a lot about his life or his experience in Vietnam. He did write a book, '100 Miles from Nowhere,' that talks about growing up in Bell, family and his service,” said Adair.
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said Birdwell is someone whom he deeply respects not only for his service to the tribal nation, but also for his service to the country.
"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 said.
Stilwell Mayor Jean Ann Wright did not personally know Birdwell as a student, because he was several years older than she.
“I remember hearing family members speak about him with great admiration in their voices, about what an honorable young man he was. When news first broke about the young Cherokee boy from Bell who had saved the lives of so many in Vietnam, I can remember thinking I would love to hear his story someday,” said Wright.
Many years later, when he was running for office in Cherokee Nation, she finally got to meet and support him.
“I received a copy of his book around that time. Since then, I have become personally acquainted with him through his service to the City of Stilwell as attorney for the Stilwell Utility Board. We are truly honored to have him work for the betterment of our city,” Wright said.
Birdwell deserves the Medal of Honor due to the heroism he showed back in 1968, she added.
“He went above and beyond the call of duty risking his life to save countless others that day. I highly recommend everyone read his book, 'A Hundred Miles of Bad Road.' Our local hero deserves not only our thanks, but our recognition and the Medal of Honor. I’m very proud to call him Stilwell’s hero."
After researching Birdwell's accomplishments, Bill Garrett said it is unbelievable that this honor is way overdue.
“While most of us were stateside going to college and going about our daily lives, some of our local young men were half a world away, risking their lives so we could enjoy our way of life," said Garrett, who chairs the Stilwell Utility Development Authority. "My friends, Dwight Birdwell and Jerry James, became national heroes with no regard for their personal safety. Dwight has been put forward to receive the country’s highest honor, the Medal of Honor. All of us should be proud to call him our friend and claim him as a Stilwell hero."