Gary Burnell Beikirch died at home with his sweetheart and family by his side on the Lord’s day, Sunday, December 26, 2021.
Mr. Beikirch, 74, was a resident of Greece, New York.
He was a husband, father and grandfather.
He was also a Christian minister, and a recipient of the Medal of Honor.
That medal, presented to him at the White House by President Nixon, was for action at Camp Dak Seang, Vietnam, on April 1, 1970. A Green Beret medic, serving with Bravo Company of the 1st Special Forces of the 5th Special Forces Group, Sergeant Beikirch was wounded repeatedly over several hours as he worked to defend the camp and tend to wounded American and Vietnamese soldiers. He carried more than one of these men to safety while administering immediate life-saving care to them, and while facing direct enemy rifle and mortar fire. Eventually, his injuries were so grievous as to paralyze his lower body, at which point he directed a Montagnard teen-ager – a beloved comrade named Deo – to carry and drag him to unmanned gun positions and to wounded soldiers needing his care.
Mr. Beikirch’s injuries required months of hospitalization and therapy, and he was never completely free of their impact upon his body. Decades later, while operating on him for cancer, surgeons were amazed at the wartime damage to his internal organs.
Mr. Beikirch recounted his war experiences, and the battle back to emotional stability afterword, in the acclaimed 2020 biography “Blaze of Light.” There and elsewhere he told of being a college student adrift, literally living in a cave in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. It took love to get him out of that cave, he said, and he found that love in Loreen Wheeler, a young single mother who noticed him in town and left a note for him at the post office.
She became his battle buddy, his Lolly and, inseparable over 46 years of marriage, she was lying beside him, holding him, when he passed away.
Theirs was a Christian marriage of love and joy, dedicated to God, family and country. Their children are Stephanie (Robert) Zimmerli, Stephen Beikirch and Sarah (Andrew) Hinds. They have 14 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Their grandchildren are: Katelynn Umstetter; Mallory, James and Phoebe Zimmerli; Annabelle, Elisabeth, Timothy, Joseph, Esther, Levi and Lydia Hinds; and Madeline, Reagan and Garrett Beikirch. Their great-grandson is Noah Umstetter.
Mr. Beikirch was the son of George W. and Norma L. (Burnell) Beikirch, both of whom are deceased. His mother primarily raised him, with a stepfather, George W. Schwartz, who is also deceased. Mr. Beikirch was born in the City of Rochester, New York, and almost died there at age 2 when he fell out of a window in his family’s second-story apartment on Genesee Park Boulevard. Mr. Beikirch has one sibling, a brother, Larry, who was named by Mr. Beikirch, after his best friend from school.
Mr. Beikirch served for more than 30 years as a guidance counselor in the Greece Central School District, from which he himself had graduated. There, he shaped the lives of untold thousands of students, many of whom did not know of his wartime service. Their tales of gratitude and love for this wise man are legendary.
Mr. Beikirch was involved in various Christian ministries, including one to the inmates of Groveland Correctional Facility.
Mr. Beikirch was also active in veterans affairs, and was one of the founders of the Veterans Outreach Center in Rochester. He was the chaplain of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, spoke to hundreds of military and veterans groups across the country, and counseled innumerable veterans grappling with the emotional toll of their service. In 1982, he and other veterans returned to Vietnam to talk with officials there about Americans missing in action, and about the fate of Amerasian children. The next year, to honor Americans who served in Southeast Asia, Mr. Beikirch and a group of other Vietnam veterans parachuted into Death Valley and ran 100 miles across the desert.
As a Medal of Honor recipient, Mr. Beikirch attended many affairs of state, usually with his wife. They took each of their children in turn to presidential inaugurations. He sat in the front row at the White House when local soldier David Bellavia was presented the Medal of Honor. Military and civilian parks and buildings are named in his honor.
Calling hours will be from 3 to 7 p.m. Friday, January 7, 2022, at First Bible Baptist Church at 990 Manitou Road in Hilton, New York, to which the Beikirchs belonged for more than 20 years. A celebration of Mr. Beikirch’s life will be held at the church at 10 Saturday morning, January 8, 2022.
All are welcome, and the service will be live streamed.
Donations may be made in Mr. Beikirch’s honor to the Veterans Outreach Center