William Richard Charette, born 1932, passed away last week at the age of 79. That in and of itself is a bit of a miracle, since by all accounts he should have been dead 59 years ago.
Charette was awarded the Medal of Honor as a US Navy Medical Corpsman serving with Company F, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines during the Korean War. In reviewing the citation, we see that then-HM3 Charette (later retiring as a Master Chief), in one action during the battle around OP Vegas on 27 March 1953, moved about through a “murderous barrage” of small arms fire and mortars to tend the various wounded during the see-saw engagement, in which Fox Company counter-attacked three times against a well dug-in Communist Chinese regiment, participating in its eventual destruction.
During the engagement, a grenade landed near Charette and the wounded Marine that he was attending. Charette shielded the body of the Marine from the blast, absorbing “the entire concussion” and sustaining facial wounds, with his helmet and medical kit bag blown away. Upon recovering as best he could from the shock of the blast, he continued to render further aid by tearing off portions of his uniform (assisted, I expect, by the fact that it was shredded to some degree) to bandage wounds of his patient and others nearby. Another seriously wounded Marine had had his flak vest torn from his body by another shell, and Charette took off his own vest so that he could cover that patient, fully aware that he was exposing himself to the continuing barrage. He then exposed himself to a “deadly hail of enemy fire” by standing upright to render aid to another Marine along a trench line.
It was a grim joke I would occasionally hear during my military career that the Medal of Honor was actually somewhat easy to earn; the real trick was surviving to receive the award in person. A partial irony is that a Vegas odds-maker would have bet the bank on the ‘evidence-based’ conclusion that Charette was supposed to have been killed several times over, a fact not lost, I am sure, on Charette himself.
An interesting aside: Charette is not a common name. Is it possible that he was related to GM1 George Charette, USN, who received a Medal of Honor for actions in the Spanish-American War in 1898?