HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - On April 1, 1970, Army Sgt. Gary Beikirch was serving as a Special Forces medic in Vietnam when his camp was overrun by the enemy.
"I was shot three times pretty quickly, early in the battle," he said.
Despite shrapnel and bullet wounds, the Green Beret rescued and treated injured soldiers and civilians with help from his teenage assistant.
"Dao, my Montagnard bodyguard, was carrying me. And when he couldn't carry me anymore because he had been shot, he dragged me," Beikirch said.
The 15-year-old shielded Beikirch from an explosion and was killed.
Beikirch was hospitalized with life-threatening injuries.
"The battle that was really the toughest I ever fought was a few days later when I woke up in a hospital bed and I was dying," he said.
In 1973, President Nixon presented Beikirch with the Medal of Honor. But he suffered from survivor’s guilt and postwar trauma.
"I took the medal off and put it in my duffel bag," he said. "I never took it out again for seven years because I just didn't feel worthy."
His Christian faith and his wife’s love helped him overcome those feelings and recover from the invisible wounds of war.
"I learned how to heal by forgiving myself," he said.
That’s when Beikirch changed his outlook on the Medal of Honor. He no longer looked at is as a badge of courage, but rather a symbol for all who serve.
"It's something that represents something greater than one person. Greater than one day. Greater than one act," he said.
Biekirch worked as a middle school guidance counselor for 33 years, helping teenagers because of the teenager who helped him.
“Here was a young boy who loved me enough to give himself for me,” he said.
He lives in Rochester, New York, and travels the country talking about the Medal of Honor, his struggles and his faith in God.
"I wear it for His honor because if it wasn't for His grace I wouldn't have survived Vietnam," he said.
Beikirch is wrapping up a speaking tour on Oahu.
Ohana Baptist Church is offering copies of a pamphlet he wrote that details his story. To get a copy, email Pastor Wayne Surface at email@example.com.