OU College of Law alum Dwight W. Birdwell received the Medal of Honor from President Joe Biden for his heroic efforts in the Vietnam War during a ceremony on July 5.
Birdwell was raised in Adair County, Oklahoma, as a member of Bell, a small Cherokee Nation community, where he attended Bell Grade School and graduated from Stilwell High School in 1966.
It was that year Birdwell joined the Army and went on to receive two Silver Stars, a Bronze Star for meritorious service, two Purple Hearts and now the Medal of Honor. While enlisted, he served in Troop C, third Squadron, fourth Cavalry, 25th Infantry Division in the Vietnam War.
His first Silver Star for heroism was earned during a defense mission while the Tan Son Nhut Air Base fell under attack during the Tet Offensive. Birdwell not only fired all rounds from his tank after the tank commander was injured, he also fired rounds from a machine gun until it was damaged by enemy fire, and then ran into enemy fire to retrieve ammunition for his troop.
His second Silver Star for bravery was received on July 4, 1968, when he, again, ran into enemy fire to help evacuate wounded soldiers from a village. After loading and transporting the first round of soldiers, Birdwell returned to the village to rescue more.
The following December, Birdwell moved home and attended Northeastern State University and then the University of Oklahoma College of Law, graduating in 1976.
After graduating, Birdwell served on the Judicial Appeals Tribunal of the Cherokee Nation from 1987-99. During that time, he was appointed as the court’s chief justice in 1995, and again in 1998. He is now the main law consultant at Birdwell Law Office in Oklahoma City.
In the ceremony, Biden awarded Birdwell with the prestigious Medal of Honor. This award is defined as one given to a soldier who may disregard his or her own safety to rescue another person, according to the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology.
Birdwell’s Medal of Honor citation detailed his courageous acts on the front line, stating that he went far beyond the call of duty to serve his troop and nation.
When asked, Birdwell remarked that receiving this medal was for far more than himself.
“I consider this not an honor for myself, but certainly for my creator, the men who served with me and all of those men who came to me as a child, Cherokee men who had served in Korea and served in World War II or even World I and talked about their experiences and encouraged me to serve and essentially gave me the idea and belief that I had to do it to carry on a tradition of the Cherokee Nation,” Birdwell said to the Cherokee Phoenix.