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Gary Beikirch, local Medal of Honor recipient, has died at 74

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Max Schulte/WXXI News
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Medal of Honor recipient and Vietnam War veteran Gary Beikirch reflects on the dedication of a portion of Highland Park near the Vietnam Memorial in his name on May 13, 2021.

A local war hero has died.

Gary Beikirch, who received the Medal of Honor for his actions during the Vietnam War, had been suffering from cancer. His daughter, Stephanie Lynn Zimmerli, said on Facebook that he died Sunday afternoon.

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Max Schulte/WXXI News
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Medal of Honor recipient and Vietnam War veteran Gary Beikirch and his wife, Loreen, stand near the sign for the portion of Highland Park that was dedicated May 13, 2021 in his name.

She wrote that, “My father Gary Beikirch, my hero, the very heart, hands and feet of Jesus demonstrated through every part of his life here on earth, is now in the arms of his Heavenly Father. He went peacefully this afternoon at 3:21 pm with his family and my mother, the love of his life by his side. He is now at peace , no more pain, only joy forevermore.”

Beikirch, who is from the town of Greece, had been in home-hospice care in recent weeks, and Zimmerli had noted in a previous Facebook post that her dad was determined to be out of bed in the house as much as possible until very recently.

Beikirch was a medic in the Vietnam War, and he received the Medal of Honor for treating wounded soldiers in 1970 while also fighting off the North Vietnamese, despite being wounded himself. He was presented the Medal of Honor by President Richard Nixon on Oct. 15, 1973.

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Max Schulte/WXXI News
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Medal of Honor recipient and Vietnam War veteran Gary Beikirch hugs a fellow veteran after a portion of Highland Park was dedicated as the Gary Beikirch Memorial Park on May 13, 2021.

He was honored by Monroe County last May as a portion of Highland Park was renamed the Gary Beikirch Memorial Park. It’s near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Highland Park.

During the ceremony, Beikirch said he wanted visitors to remember more than just the one name that is depicted on the sign — he wanted people to see a sign that says “welcome home.”

“It’s a simple phrase; there’s only two words,” he said last May. “But the words mean so much, especially to the men and women coming home after serving our country.”

Beikirch said that it is also a message to every man and woman who has served.

“That we remember, we honor, and that we will never forget your sacrifice and service, to keep our homes and our communities free,” he said.

After leaving the military, Beikirch became an ordained minister, worked with veterans and served as a guidance counselor.

County Executive Adam Bello said that through that work, Beikirch made a difference in countless lives.

At the May park dedication, Nick Stefanovich, director of the Monroe County Veterans Service Agency, said his hope is that someone walking in Highland Park decades from now will see the sign, turn to their children, and teach them about Beikirch and what he stood for.

Greece Supervisor Bill Reilich said on Facebook Sunday that as of Monday morning, he is ordering flags on Greece Town Hall properties to be lowered to half-staff, "to honor the passing of hometown hero and Medal of Honor recipient Gary Beikirch."

Reilich noted that Beikirch is the namesake of the town's Veterans' Memorial Wall.

Rochester Mayor James Smith said that he knew Beikirch and that “his many decades of service and sacrifice here in the Rochester area earned him the unyielding love and respect of an entire community.”

The city of Rochester also will fly flags on government buildings at half-staff on Monday. Bello also said on Twitter that flags would be flown at half-staff.

Randy Gorbman is WXXI's director of news and public affairs. Randy manages the day-to-day operations of WXXI News on radio, television, and online.