Vietnam Combat Cameraman’s Medal of Honor To Be Displayed at Smithsonian

Medal and Camera To Be Exhibited Together for First Time
October 31, 2017

The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History will display the only Medal of Honor to be awarded to a combat photographer in the Medal of Honor Gallery of the "Price of Freedom" exhibition beginning Nov. 1.

Marine Cpl. William Thomas Perkins Jr. died at the age of 20 when he flung himself on a grenade to preserve the lives of three other Marines during Operation Medina, a Marine search and destroy operation in Quang Tri Province, Vietnam, Oct. 12, 1967. The Marine Corps posthumously awarded him the Medal of Honor for "his gallant actions."

His mother, Marilane Perkins Jacobson of Lexington, Ky., donated the medal, her son's letters and other personal effects to the museum's permanent Armed Forces Collections in 2015. Museum Advisory Board member Jeff Garrett, also of Lexington, assisted with the acquisition.

"I didn't want his possessions to end up in somebody's brown box in a basement," Jacobson said. "I figured they should go to the Smithsonian."

Perkins' award, his Purple Heart, and photography will be exhibited along with his Bell and Howell camera, which shows damage from the grenade attack and is on loan from National Museum of the Marine Corps. This will be the first time the camera and Medal of Honor are displayed together.

The Medal of Honor is America's highest award for valor in combat. First authorized in 1861 for sailors and Marines and the following year for soldiers, more than 3,400 Medals of Honor have been bestowed for conspicuous and well-documented acts of gallantry in war. The Medal of Honor Gallery tells the story of the nation's highest military honor through artifacts and interactive displays.

The "Price of Freedom: Americans at War" exhibition surveys the history of America's military from the French and Indian Wars to the present conflict in Iraq, exploring ways in which wars have been defining episodes in American history. The exhibition extends far beyond a survey of battles to present the link between military conflict and American political leadership, social values, technological innovation, and personal sacrifice. The heart of the story is the impact of war on citizen soldiers, their families and communities.

Through incomparable collections, rigorous research and dynamic public outreach, the National Museum of American History explores the infinite richness and complexity of American history. It helps people understand the past in order to make sense of the present and shape a more humane future. The museum is continuing to renovate its west exhibition wing, developing galleries on democracy and culture. The museum is located on Constitution Avenue N.W., between 12th and 14th Streets, and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. For more information, visit For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000.

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