Fisher Students Collaborate with Monroe County to Pay Homage to Medal of Honor Recipient

March 29, 2024

St. John Fisher University students and faculty members are collaborating with Monroe County to honor Rochester veterans.

Sara Casale, Shane Morgan, Caroline Cahalan, and Sara Yorio

Dr. Carolyn Vacca and Dr. Frederick Dotolo, professors in Fisher’s History Department, have previously worked with veterans in the community thanks to a National Endowment for the Humanities grant. Through this work, they became familiar with the director of Monroe County’s Veterans Service Agency, Nicholas Stefanovic. Eventually, Stefanovic approached Vacca and Dotolo with an idea to help construct a memorial commemorating veterans.

Stefanovic said that community members had come forward wanting to honor a Rochester-born Medal of Honor recipient who had previously gone unrecognized in the area. This prompted a plan to renovate the Veteran’s Lounge in the Frederick Douglass Greater Rochester International Airport to honor this recipient and other Rochester veterans.  The Fisher students who worked on this project include Sara Casale, Shane Morgan, Caroline Cahalan, and Sara Yorio. Notably, Shane Morgan, a former Petty Officer Third Class in the United States Navy, brings a unique background to the team. During his six-year tenure on the USS John C. Stennis, Morgan fulfilled roles as a nuclear reactor operator and technical publication librarian. Stefanovic's selection of Fisher students for this project underscores his belief in the value of engaging young individuals and providing them with opportunities for continued learning.

“I think this gives an opportunity for younger people, who maybe haven’t had that experience, to connect and for county residents to connect and take a minute to acknowledge someone else’s service,” said Vacca.

This exhibit is currently projected to be finished in spring 2025 and will honor all Rochester veterans, particularly William Thomas Perkins Jr, a combat photographer during the Vietnam War who was posthumously awarded a Medal of Honor. Perkins was born on August 10, 1947, in Rochester, New York, and became a corporal in the United States Marine Corps. Local residents felt strongly that Perkins deserved to be honored in his birthplace for his outstanding service in the line of duty.

Perkins was in the Quang Tri Province of the Republic of Vietnam when his company came under fire from the Northern Vietnamese Army during a reconnaissance mission. During the fighting, a grenade was thrown in the near vicinity of Perkins and three of his fellow Marines. Perkins shouted a warning to the other soldiers around him and threw himself on top of the grenade, taking the brunt of the explosion and saving the lives of those around him. Perkins was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor on June 20, 1969, and President Richard Nixon presented it to Perkins’ family who accepted it on his behalf. To this day, he is the only combat photographer to receive a Medal of Honor. The footage captured by Perkins in the days preceding his death can be seen on the US National Archives YouTube channel.