A life well-lived: Gary Beikirch, American war hero and Greece native

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) – Rochester – and America – have lost a patriot.

Gary Beikirch, a Vietnam War veteran from Greece passed away Sunday afternoon after a long battle with cancer, accrording to his family.

Beikirch was awarded the Medal of Honor, the U.S. military’s highest decoration, for his courageous actions as a combat medic in the U.S. Army Special Forces.

Tonight, we honor his bravery and service.

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Gary Beikirch is an American hero. He joined the army at age 19. Beikirch was trained as a light weapons specialist, then went through airborne school before becoming a medical specialist. In 1969, he was deployed to Vietnam.

Stationed at Camp Dak Seang in Kon Tum province, the Army medical specialist was there to assist soldiers and villagers. On April 1, 1970, the camp came under heavy fire from North Vietnamese forces.

"About five or six in the morning, we started taking incoming explosions, artillery, rockets," Beikirch said in a sit-down interview with the American Legion in September 2014.

Beikirch gathered up his medical supplies and moved through enemy fire to assist the wounded. He was hit by shrapnel and partially paralyzed but continued to provide medical care to others. He refused treatment and continued to search out casualties, receiving more shrapnel wounds and getting shot in the stomach. He finally collapsed and was evacuated by helicopter, spending the next eight months recovering from his injuries.

"I didn’t feel fear of dying. I just knew if I was going die, I was going to die in battle… and what kept me going was the love for those people," Beikirch said.

He received the Purple Heart, Silver Star Medal, Bronze Star and the distinguished service cross. In 1973, he was awarded the Medal of Honor – the military’s highest decoration.

It’s an award that, for many years, he felt he was unworthy of.

"I only did what anybody else with me would have done, too. But there is an honor that comes with the Medal of Honor, and that honor is the fact that it’s something bigger than one person – bigger than me," Beikrch said.

After leaving the military, he continued to dedicate his life to serving others. Beikirch attended the seminary and became a pastor. Then more recently, he had a career as a guidance counselor at Greece Arcadia Middle School before retiring.

For some time, he has been fighting another battle – cancer – in his pancreas and then his liver.

In May, Highland Park’s Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial was renamed in his honor.

Though in failing health, Beikirch attended the ceremony, holding back tears, humbled by the honor.

"I have found that there is something greater than success in life and that is significance. Significance comes very easily. You don’t need any special skills or talents or training. Significance can happen as easy as it is to just love someone else more than yourself, and that’s how I’ve tried to live my life," Beikirch said at the May 2021 ceremony.

A life well-lived.

A nation and community served with bravery, courage and honor.

The true mark of an American hero.