Ken Harbaugh tells the stories of service members who have distinguished themselves through an act of valor. These stories feature recipients from the Civil War to present day, including a few who were originally overlooked for the medal.
HMCM William Charette: Saving Lives in the Mountains of Korea
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As Marines counterattacked to regain a vital outpost in the mountains of Korea, MCHM Charette shielded a wounded Marine’s body from a grenade blast. When his medical bag was destroyed, Charette bandaged wounded Marines with whatever he could get his hands on, even shreds of his own uniform. Charette was the only sailor who survived to receive the Medal of Honor for actions in Korea.
Welcome to the Medal of Honor podcast, brought to you in partnership with the National Medal of Honor Museum. I’m Ken Harbaugh. In each episode, we’ll learn about a different service member who has distinguished him or herself through an act of valor.
Master Chief Hospital Corpsman William Charette was born on March 29th, 1932 in Ludington, Michigan. When Charette was four years old, both of his parents died, leaving him to be raised by his uncle.
In January 1951, Charette enlisted in the U.S. Navy and became a hospital corpsman. After completing recruit training and the Navy Hospital Corps School, he reported to the Field Medical Service School in Camp Pendleton, and became a Fleet Marine Force corpsman attached to 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines.
In February 1953, Charette and 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines deployed to South Korea. The battalion already had a storied history in the Korean War, landing at Inchon, capturing Seoul, and fighting off thousands of Chinese at the Chosin Reservoir. On this deployment, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines were sent to guard outposts near the Main Line of Resistance as the war ground down and neither side made major gains.
On March 26th, 1953, Chinese forces seized Vegas, the most important outpost in the area. The next day, Charette’s company was tasked with retaking Vegas. During the uphill battle through small arms and indirect fire, the Marines took several casualties and Charette sprang into action to treat them. As he aided a wounded Marine, an enemy grenade landed nearby. Charette covered the wounded Marine’s body to block the blast, but it badly wounded and temporarily blinded Charette. The grenade also destroyed his medical kit, forcing him to make bandages from ripped pieces of uniform. Regaining his vision, Charette gave his flak jacket to another wounded Marine who lost his in an explosion. He then treated a fireteam of wounded in a trench, carrying one Marine back to safety despite the heavy enemy fire and a serious leg wound.
Initially, Charette was recommended for the Navy Cross, the U.S. Navy’s second highest decoration, but it was later upgraded. On January 12th, 1954, Charette was awarded the Medal of Honor at the White House. Of the five enlisted sailors to receive the Medal of Honor in the Korean War, he was the only one to survive.
Charette continued to serve in the Navy, aboard the submarines USS Triton and USS Sam Houston. In 1977, he retired as a Master Chief Hospital Corpsman.
Charette’s other awards include the Purple Heart, Combat Action Ribbon, Navy Unit Commendation, and Korean Service Medal.
Charette passed away on March 18th, 2012, in Lake Wales, Florida. He was married to Louise Frasier Charette for 57 years; they had four children.
The Medal of Honor Podcast is a production of Evergreen Podcasts.
Nathan Corson is our producer and engineer, León Pescador is our script writer, Declan Rohrs is our script editor and recording engineer, and I’m Ken Harbaugh.
We are proud to support the National Medal of Honor Museum. To learn more, and to support their mission, got to mohmuseum.org. Thanks for listening.