William Richard Charette was born in Ludington, Michigan, on 29 March 1932 and graduated from high school there in 1951. On 11 January 1951, he enlisted in the U. S. Navy in Muskegon, Michigan. He was advanced to hospital corpsman third class on 16 April 1952.

He underwent recruit training at the Naval Training Station, Great Lakes, Illinois, and then attended the Naval Hospital Corps School, Bainbridge, Maryland. Duty at the U. S. Naval Hospital, Naval Base, Charleston, South Carolina, followed. On 25 November 1952, after volunteering to serve in Korea, HM3 Charette reported for field training and further assignment at Field Medical Service School, Camp Pendleton, California. He joined Company F, 2d Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division, which embarked for Korea on 5 February 1953.

On 27 March 1953, in the horrific Chinese attack on Marine outpost Vegas, small-arms and mortar fire resounded. HM3 Charette faced a growing number of casualties exposed to enemy fire. When a grenade landed nearby, HM3 Charette threw himself over his patient, absorbing the blast with his own body. In another instance, he removed his battle vest and placed it on a patient. In addition, he tore parts of his uniform to dress other battle wounds. HM3 Charette also stood up in a trench, exposing himself to enemy rounds, to aid a wounded comrade. He sustained many painful wounds; however, through courage and perseverance, he saved numerous lives.

When the war was over, HM3 Charette was still serving in Korea when he learned that he would receive the Medal of Honor. All five enlisted Sailors to receive the nation’s highest award for military valor during the Korean War were hospital corpsmen serving with the Marines. HM3 Charette, the only one living of the five, received the Medal of Honor in Washington, D.C., from President Dwight D. Eisenhower on 12 January 1954.

He continued his service with the U. S. Navy, training new hospital corpsmen at the Naval Hospital Corps School in Great Lakes. In 1958, aboard USS Canberra, he had the honor of selecting the World War II remains that would be placed in the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia. He eventually moved into the Submarine Force, becoming one of the first hospital corpsmen to serve on nuclear submarines. After 26 years of service, he retired as a master chief hospital corpsman in 1977.

In addition to the Medal of Honor, HMCM Charette’s other decorations included the Purple Heart Medal, National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Service Medal, and the United Nations Service Medal.

Navy Medal of Honor recipients serving with Marine units at the time of award

Marine Corps University