The individuals who received the medal — the most prestigious decoration in the US military — are Staff Sergeant Edward N. Kaneshiro, Specialist Five Dwight W. Birdwell, Specialist Five Dennis M. Fujii and retired Major John J. Duffy.
“They stood in the way of danger, risked everything … to defend our nation and our values,” Biden said during the ceremony at the White House. “However, not every service member has received the full recognition they deserve. Today we’re setting the record straight. We’re upgrading the awards of four soldiers who performed acts of incredible heroism during the Vietnam conflict.”
The President said it’s been a long journey — more than 50 years — for those veterans and their families. “But time has not diminished their astonishing bravery, their selflessness in putting the lives of others ahead of their own and the gratitude that we as a nation owe them,” he added.
“Your family sacrificed so much for our country,” Biden told Kaneshiro’s family. “I know that no award can ever make up for the loss of your father and not having him there as you grew up. But I hope today you take some pride and comfort in knowing his valor is finally receiving the full recognition it has always deserved.”
Before receiving the award on his father’s behalf, Kaneshiro’s son told CNN that his dad’s story inspired his own career in the military.
“Just to imagine … for him to just be selfless and to just jump into the fire like that. It inspired me to … live up to what he has done,” John Kaneshiro said.
Birdwell, a former Cherokee Nation Supreme Court justice, received the medal for his actions in January 1968.
“I did the job that I was trained for. I felt like I had to do this. It was a matter of duty. And I did my duty as best I could,” Birdwell said. “I’ve wondered a thousand times why I survived and some of the others didn’t, but I’ve thought when I go up for judgment, if I have the courage, I’ll ask God that question.”
Biden described how “it took decades” for Birdwell’s commanding officer, Gen. Glenn Otis, to realize he “had not received the full honor he had earned.” But in retirement, Biden said, “Gen. Otis made sure to correct the record and fully document Birdwell’s actions to make this day possible.”
Fujii received the medal for his actions during a helicopter ambulance rescue in Laos and Vietnam across four days in February 1971.
Aboard a helicopter during a mission to evacuate seriously wounded Vietnamese military personnel, the aircraft took on enemy fire and was forced to crash land, according to the White House. As he was injured, Fujii waved off another helicopter and was the only American to remain behind on the battlefield. He repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire, administered first aid to allies and called in US helicopter gunships to repel enemy attacks.
Duffy received the award for his acts in Vietnam in April 1972.
Biden also described how as their airship was preparing to depart, one of Duffy’s Vietnamese allies was shot in the foot, “causing him to fall backwards out of the helicopter.”
“Maj. Duffy caught him and dragged him back in on board, saving one more life along the way,” he continued.
Duffy, who is now 84 years old, was deployed to Vietnam four times, racking up 64 awards and decorations — including 29 for valor, four Bronze Stars, eight Purple Hearts and seven Air Medals.
“You’re honor-bound to do your duty, and it doesn’t matter the risk or the danger. You’re there to perform. And as long as you do that, you’re in control,” Duffy said ahead of being awarded the Medal of Honor.
CNN’s Betsy Klein contributed to this report.