Rochester’s Forgotten Hero: Medal of Honor Recipient William Perkins

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Two men from Rochester have received the Medal of Honor, the country’s highest military award for valor.

Most have heard of Gary Beikirch who, as a combat medic during Vietnam continued to treat soldiers despite being under heavy fire, with wounds of his own. The other Medal of Honor recipient is William Perkins who has a name and story you’re probably not familiar with.

News10NBC Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke recently took a walk through the Veteran’s Memorial at Highland Park with 3-time purple heart recipient Chuck Macaluso but it wasn’t his service and sacrifice for our country that he wanted to talk about. “Nobody’s ever heard of William Perkins and that has kind of always bothered me,” he said.

Born in 1947, William Perkins spent his early years in Rochester. "His father worked at Eastman Kodak company,” says Macaluso. That could have been what sparked his interest in photography. After Perkins graduated from high school, he joined the Marine Corps as a combat photographer. At 19-years-old he was sent to Vietnam.

“I think he was in Vietnam like 3 or 4 months before he was killed…photographers, they really weren’t expected to be trigger pullers ya know, they were just supposed to be documenting the thing,” says Macaluso.

While Perkins didn’t pull a trigger, he protected those who did, “he yelled ‘grenade’ and then he jumped on the grenade and took the brunt of the explosion.” Macaluso says. “There were five people that said he saved my life.”

For his sacrifice, President Richard Nixon awarded William Perkins the Medal of Honor posthumously, he was the only combat photographer to have ever received the medal. Perkins’ parents accepted on his behalf during a ceremony at the White House but by then, they had moved across the country to California and there were no family members left locally to remind the community of William Perkins’ story.

Before William Perkins’ parents passed away, they donated his medal, camera, and his photographs to the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian. “It’s nice because he’s always going to be remembered there anyways… but locally he’s really not,” Macaluso says.

Unless of course, you start talking with Chuck Macaluso who considers himself lucky to have survived the same war and is thankful for fellow veterans like William Perkins that helped to make that possible.

For more information on William Perkins: Smithsonian article, click here. Congressional Medal of Honor Society Stories of Sacrifice