mMedal of Honor: William R. Charette
Every weekday for 110 straight days we will feature a different living recipient of the Medal of Honor. These are the men who have received their nation's highest military honor. Brian is a board member of the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation. The words and photos are courtesy of Artisan Books, publishers of "Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty by Peter Collier with photographs by Nick Del Calzo.
WILLIAM R. CHARETTE
Hospital Corpsman third Class, U.S. Navy Attached to Company F, 2nd Battalion, Panmunjom, Korea, 1953 -- Sole Surviving Corpsman 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division
William Charette’s parents died when he was four, and he was raised by an uncle. After high school, he took a job on a Lake Michigan ferryboat, which led him to join the Navy. There was a shortage of medical corpsmen, so he volunteered. He worked in a Navy hospital for a year, then volunteered again, this time as a medic with the Marine Corps. He was assigned to a rifle company in the Seventh Marines in Korea. In the spring of 1953, Navy Corpsman Charette’s Marine unit was in an area near Panmunjom between North and South Korea, guarding the route to the South Korean capital of Seoul.
In the early-morning hours of March 27, Chinese troops overran three outposts on a hill the Americans called Vegas; the Marines counterattacked to retake the position several hours later. It was the beginning of a solid twenty-four hours of combat. The well-entrenched enemy hit the Americans with small arms and mortar fire. As the Marines tried to ascend Vegas Hill, the Chinese rolled grenades down on them. There were so many explosions that Charette couldn’t keep count.
At one point, he was working on a badly wounded rifleman when a Chinese grenade hit nearby. Figuring that the man couldn’t survive another wound, Charette threw himself over his body. The explosion tore off Charette’s helmet, destroyed his medical pack, and knocked him out. When he came to and couldn’t see because of the blood in his eyes caused by shrapnel wounds to his face, he thought he was blind. But his vision eventually cleared, and he returned to his duties. Charette’s medical supplies were destroyed by enemy fire, but he improvised by tearing off pieces of his uniform to make bandages for the men in his unit as well as for those in nearby platoons. He put his own battle vest on a wounded Marine whose vest had been destroyed by an explosion. When a trench was completely blown out, he swiftly went to the aid of five soldiers wounded in the explosion. One of them was severely injured, his leg nearly severed.
When the order came at dawn to pull back and Marines started carrying the wounded out, they had to bend down to avoid enemy fire and were unable to get the man out without injuring him further. Charette picked the Marine up in his arms and, standing up despite enemy guns, carried him to safety. Following this engagement, Charette was pulled back in reserve. He was recommended for the Navy Cross, but as the citation was forwarded up through the ranks, it was upgraded to the Medal of Honor.
In all, five Navy corpsmen were recommended for the medal during the Korean War. Charette was the only one who survived to receive it. On Jan. 12, 1954, William Charette received the medal from President Dwight Eisenhower. The man who explained the protocol for the ceremony to him, submarine commander Captain Edward L. Beach, Jr., the president’s naval aide, went on to write the best-selling Run Silent, Run Deep. Years later Charette served under Beach on the USS Triton.
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