An official website of the United States Government 
Here's how you know

Official websites use .gov

.gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS

A lock ( lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Medal of Honor Monday: Navy Master Chief William Charette

You have accessed part of a historical collection on Some of the information contained within may be outdated and links may not function. Please contact the DOD Webmaster with any questions.

July 27 marks the 67th anniversary of the Korean War armistice agreement that ended three years of hostilities between United Nations forces and North Korea. To commemorate that, we're highlighting the life and career of Navy Master Chief Petty Officer William Charette — who was the only living hospital corpsman to receive the Medal of Honor for his actions in Korea.

A sailor wears a medal around his neck.
Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class William Charette
Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class William Charette wears his Medal of Honor.
Photo By: Navy photo
VIRIN: 540112-N-ZZ999-731

Charette was born on March 29, 1932, in Ludington, Michigan. His parents died when he was 5, so he and his sister were raised by an uncle until World War II. When that uncle was drafted and sent to war, another uncle took care of them on a large dairy farm, which Charette helped work into his teen years. 

After high school, Charette worked on a ferry boat on nearby Lake Michigan. The job inspired his interest in working on the water, which led him to join the Navy in 1951, shortly before he turned 19. He was selected to be a hospital corpsman – a medic – because there was a shortage of them at the time.

Charette served at a Navy hospital during his first year, but he later volunteered to attach to a Marine reserve unit. As a hospital corpsman 3rd class, he joined F Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division and was sent to Korea in January 1953. 

About two months into the deployment, Charette's unit was near Panmunjom guarding three hilly outposts along the route from North Korea to the South Korean capital of Seoul. On March 27, 1953, Chinese soldiers fighting for North Korea attacked. Through a barrage of mortar and small-arms fire, Charette moved from wounded comrade to wounded comrade, helping them in any way he could.

Three men in military uniforms work on an injured serviceman lying down in tall grass.
Medical Assistance
Members of the 7th Marine Regiment assist an unidentified Navy corpsman as he gives blood to a Marine hit by an enemy hand grenade. The picture was taken after a battle atop a ridge in Korea, Sept. 8, 1951.
Photo By: Marine Corps photo
VIRIN: 510908-M-ZZ999-123

When an enemy grenade landed near one Marine he was helping, Charette immediately threw himself onto the injured man, absorbing the blast with his own body. The explosion ripped off Charette's helmet and medical aid kit and knocked him unconscious. When he regained consciousness, he used his own clothing as bandages to help the other injured men around him, ignoring his own wounds. One Marine's armored vest had been ripped off his body by an explosion, so Charette took off his own and put it on the injured man.

The unit moved toward safety in a trench. They were carrying a Marine who was suffering from a serious leg wound when they reached a point where the trench had caved in. 

"Where the trench was blown in, they stopped. I was somewhere toward the rear, so I walked — well, huddled down — to get up there. I was pretty young and strong at the time, so I said, 'I'm going to stand up, and you pass him to me and get someone on the other side to take him, and we'll just lift him over.’ And that's what we did," Charette said during a Library of Congress Veterans History Project interview in the early 2000s.

The 20-year-old hospital corpsman exposed himself to a hail of enemy fire to make that happen. Using this dangerous maneuver, the unit got four more injured men across the blown-in trench and took them to an aid station. 

Four men holding rifles rest beside a hut.
Relaxed Marines
Marines of the 1st Marine Division relax by a hut after killing an enemy sniper in Korea.
Photo By: Marine Corps photo
VIRIN: 200723-M-ZZ999-001

Charette saved several lives that day. He was initially recommended for the Navy Cross, but that was upgraded to the Medal of Honor.

"When they came and told me they'd moved it up to a Medal of Honor, I immediately went to our captain and told him, ‘I don't want it.’ I didn't think I earned it," Charette said. "I think it was Ernie Pyle who said, 'You're ashamed to be alive when you're among the dead.’ And he was right."

Charette accepted the honor, despite never considering himself a hero. With much of his family present, he and two soldiers received the medal from President Dwight D. Eisenhower during a White House ceremony on Jan. 12, 1954.

"You try to wear it in respect for those people who should have gotten it but didn't," Charette later said.

Four men, three in uniforms and wearing medals stand smiling.
Medal Ceremony
President Dwight D. Eisenhower poses with three Korean War veterans after presenting each with the Medal of Honor at the White House in Washington, D.C., Jan. 12, 1954. The recipients are (from left to right): Army 1st Lt. Edward R. Schowalter Jr., Army Private 1st Class Ernest E. West and Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class William R. Charette.
Photo By: Navy photo
VIRIN: 540112-N-ZZ999-107

Five enlisted Navy hospital corpsmen received the Medal of Honor for actions taken in Korea. Charette was the only living recipient.

Charette was still in Korea when the armistice was signed. He left the Navy briefly after returning to the U.S., but he eventually re-enlisted and served for many years in the nuclear submarine program. During that time, he married and had four children. 

In 1977, Charette retired as a master chief hospital corpsman after 26 years of service.

Since then, he has spoken to schoolchildren and various other groups over the years. 

His main message: "You can't forget Korea." 

Charette died from heart surgery complications on March 18, 2012, near his home in Lakeland, Florida. He is buried at Florida National Cemetery.

A ship sails in a sea.
USS William Charette
An artist rendering of the future Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS William Charette (DDG 131).
Photo By: Navy illustration by Paul L. Archer
VIRIN: 190318-N-DM308-001A

In March 2019, it was announced that an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer wound be named in his honor.

This article is part of a weekly series called "Medal of Honor Monday," in which we highlight one of the more than 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have earned the U.S. military's highest medal for valor.


Related Stories