One hundred and twenty years ago, on June 17, 1898 President William McKinley established the United States Navy Hospital Corps. Since that time, the Hospital Corps has become the most highly decorated corps in the United States Military.
Navy Hospital Corpsmen have served alongside their brothers in the United States Marine Corps since WWI, both in war and in peace. They were with the 5th and 6th Marine Regiments at Belleau Wood, caring for their wounded brothers, in the thick of it as those Marines fought tenaciously against the greater numbers of German forces preventing them from moving on to take Paris. Belleau Woods was one of their toughest, bloodiest campaigns. Those Corpsmen who fought there with those Marines could proudly wear the moniker “Devil Docs” along with their Devil Dog brothers.
In WWII, Navy Corpsmen went ashore in every amphibious assault with their Marines as they island hopped across the Pacific taking those bloody patches of land back from the Japanese. One of them helped raise the flag over Mt. Suribachi on Iwo Jima.
In Korea, Navy Corpsmen not only had to perform their life saving duties under heavy fire against superior Chinese forces at the Chosin Reservoir, they also had to fight the effects of the freezing weather on their Marines. They accomplished this two front duty with their usual training, courage and skill.
Fifty years ago this year, I was a Hospital Corpsman assigned to Bravo Co. 3rd Recon Bn, 3rd Marine Division from January 1968 to February 1969. I had already been a Fleet Marine Corpsman for over a year before I got orders to Vietnam, having gone through the superior combat medicine training course of Field Medical Service School at Camp Lejuene, NC and then served in a Sick Bay with 2nd Force Service Regiment.
What I saw my fellow Corpsmen doing at Khe Sanh, both with their units and at Charlie Med during the siege was humbling and inspiring.
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Our training was great, but none of us 18 year old Corpsmen had a clue about the realities of combat, until we found ourselves suddenly in the middle of it. Our training gave us the basics of the necessary medical care for battlefield wounds, but the reality of combat is something else. Somehow that training kicked in when we heard the call, “Corpsman Up!” and we encountered our first experiences of the kinds of devastating injuries that bullets and shrapnel from incoming artillery rounds can do to a body.
We learned more with every circumstance.
It was in those experiences that we found a brotherhood like no other. Marines would do anything to keep their Docs safe, and they knew that their Docs would do anything and go anywhere to keep their Marines alive.
Corpsmen continue to fight alongside their Marine brothers in deserts of Iraq and in the mountains of Afghanistan. They continue to provide the necessary skills to keep their Marines healthy and to treat them with speed and increasingly more sophisticated battlefield medical techniques.
During the 120 years of the United States Navy Hospital Corps, it has become the most highly decorated corps in all of the United States Military. Corpsmen have been awarded 22 Medals of Honor, 179 Navy Crosses, 31 Navy Distinguished Service Medals, 959 Silver Stars, and over 1,600 Bronze Stars with Vs for valor.
Twenty US Navy ships have been named for Hospital Corpsmen who over those 120 years of their history served with the Marines or on board ships and under the sea with submarines. I am proud to have been counted as one of them.
The Veterans Site sends its respect to all who have served and who continue to serve in the United States Navy Hospital Corps.
We say, “Semper Fi” and “Fair Winds and Following Seas” to you all. Thank you for your dedication to duty in caring for your brothers and sisters in the field, on board ships and submarines and in the many Naval Hospitals around the world.
Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site Blog.