Cpl. William T. Perkins, Combat Photographer, Medal of Honor, Vietnam
Cpl. William T. Perkins, Combat Photographer, Medal of Honor, Vietnam
Cpl. William T. Perkins, Combat Photographer, Medal of Honor, Vietnam

BY DUANE ALLEN VACHON PH.D.  For many years prior to my retirement I worked at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.  My job as the cemetery representative was to help the families organize the committal service for their loved one.   Meeting  with the family I would  help organize the service.  This involved coordinating with the funeral director, organizing military honors and, if requested, a representative from the religion the family requested.  Most of all I tried to make the service as painless and dignified as possible.  We conducted as many as seven services a day, five days a week.  Even though it was emotionally draining, two things kept me going. I have a strong faith, and I was mindful that I was responsible for giving these veterans the last benefit they would receive for the service they gave to their country.  It was a privilege and honor to be able to do this for my fellow veterans.

Despite my faith and my deep sense of service, at times I was touched and profoundly moved.  At times  it could be difficult not to be overwhelmed by the pain of the mothers and fathers, wives and children, sisters and brothers that were left behind.

To this day I still find myself at times being deeply moved when I am doing the research for these articles.  This is one of those articles that moved me. Perkins was only 20 years old when he gave up his life.  Not old enough to buy a beer in his home state. He was a Marine and every Marine is a rifleman first. However, his job was a combat photographer.  Despite this he gave up his life to save his fellow Marines.  Perkins is the only combat photographer to have received the Medal of Honor. Secondly, when searching to locate where he was buried, I saw a picture of his grave marker.  He was buried with his younger brother Robert who died in 1978.  His parents suffered the pain of having to bury two sons.

There are 58,282 names on the Vietnam Wall.  It’s impossible to imagine how much collateral damage is associated with those names.  As you read these articles, spare a thought for the hero, but also a thought and, if you are so inclined, a prayer for all of those who were left behind.

William (Bill) T. Perkins, Jr. was born August 10, 1947 in Rochester, New York to William and Marilane Perkins. The family moved to Los Angeles, California and he attended Sepulveda Jr. High and graduated from James Monroe High School in 1965. He received many drama awards and was a member of the swim team and the Photography Club. He also became certified in Scuba diving and spent many hours diving off the coast of California and Catalina Island. While attending Pierce College, he was an apprentice at the Valley Music Theater and appeared at the Century City Playhouse.

Perkins and Jim Priddy joined the Marines on the “buddy system”  on April 27, 1966. He completed his infantry training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego and Camp Pendleton, California. His interest in photography and cinema led him to the Photography School at Ft. Monmouth, New Jersey. Perkins arrived in Vietnam on July 12, 1967 and was killed in action exactly three months later October 12, 1967.

Perkins was given a chance to take the US Army’s Motion Picture Photography course. The only caveat: those attending the school had to put their new skills to use in Vietnam. Perkins willingly agreed and – after training – arrived in Vietnam in July of 1967. Exactly three months later, he would prove himself a new kind of hero.

Once in country, Perkins quickly earned a reputation as a gifted combat cameraman. Shooting both stills and film, the Southern Californian captured both the mayhem and the monotony of modern warfare. Reticent in the beginning, Perkins’ fellow grunts accepted him as one of their own – even if he did go into battle with one eye plastered to a viewfinder. What they never fathomed was the young cameraman’s commitment to them. In October of 1967, that became painfully clear. A reconnaissance mission in the Hai Lang forest, Operation MEDINA devolved into a battle of hand grenades. Perkins was in the thick of it, shooting film as he and his buddies found themselves . Perkins did the unthinkable. After yelling ‘Incoming!’, William T. Perkins, Jr. crawled on top of the grenade, and absorbed its deadly blast.  Saving at least three of his friends’ lives, Perkins died with a Eymo motion picture camera in his hand. To this day, he is the only combat photographer to ever receive the Medal of Honor.

Medal of Honor Navy image 14Sep2014Medal of Honor, Navy

Medal of Honor citation

 

The President of the United States takes pride in presenting the MEDAL OF HONOR posthumously to

 CORPORAL WILLIAM T.. PERKINS, JR.

UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS

for service as set forth in the following CITATION:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a combat photographer attached to Company C, First BattalionFirst MarinesFirst Marine Division, in the Republic of Vietnam on 12 October 1967. During Operation MEDINA, a major reconnaissance in force, southwest of Quang Tri, Company C made heavy combat contact with a numerically superior North Vietnamese Army Force estimated at from two to three companies. The focal point of the intense fighting was a helicopter landing zone which was also serving as the Command Post of Company C. In the course of a strong hostile attack, an enemy grenade landed in the immediate Carea occupied by Corporal Perkins and three other Marines. Realizing the inherent danger, he shouted the warning, “Incoming Grenade” to his fellow Marines, and in a valiant act of heroism, hurled himself upon the grenade absorbing the impact of the explosion with his own body thereby saving the lives of his comrades at the cost of his own. Through his exceptional courage and inspiring valor in the face of certain death, Corporal Perkins reflected great credit upon himself and the Marine Corps and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave histhe San Fernando Mis  life for his country.

/S/ RICHARD M. NIXON

Corporal William T. Perkins is buried at San Fernando Mission Cemetery Hills Los Angeles County California, USA.

President Nixon presenting Medal of Honor to parents of Cpl. William Perkins
Gravestone for William Perkins and his brother Robert
Gravestone for William Perkins and his brother Robert

 

 

The information in this article was sourced from a variety of sources both internal and external. Every effort was made to ensure that the information is current and correct. These articles are presented to honor the heroes they are written about.

If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you can read this in English, thank a veteran.

 

 

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