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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

US Navy Hospital Corps

A common cry in battle
     “You guys are the Marine’s doctors; There’s no better in the business than a Navy Corpsman….” legendary Lieutenant General Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller, US Marine Corps. The numbers speak volumes: 22 Medals of Honor,174 Navy Crosses, 31 Distinguished Service Crosses (US Army Decoration), 946 Silver Stars, 1582 Bronze Stars, 22 Ships named after Corpsmen and 2012 Corpsmen killed in action since President William McKinley established the rating by an act of Congress on June 17th 1898. 
     Few military organizations can look upon their histories with the same degree of pride and awe as the Navy Hospital Corps. Since the establishment of the Navy medical department in Colonial times and the commissioning of the Hospital Corps a century ago, Hospital Corpsmen and their forerunners have proven themselves ready to support Marines and Sailors by giving them aid whenever and wherever necessary. 
     Known by both Marines and Sailors as “Doc,” Corpsmen have served everywhere the Navy and Marine Corps have served or fought since the Spanish American War. Often, especially in combat, Corpsmen are the only medial help available. 
     To ensure that the members of the new Hospital Corps were adequately trained in the pertinent disciplines, a basic school for corpsmen was established at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Norfolk, Virginia in 1902 with a curriculum that included anatomy and physiology, bandaging, nursing, first aid, pharmacy, clerical work, and military drill. 
     World War Two resulted in a massive expansion of the Hospital Corps and schools were established at Great Lakes, Illinois, Minneapolis, Minnesota and in New York at Columbia University and in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Corpsmen who served on small vessels such as destroyers were trained at the Pharmacist Mate School at Hampton Roads, Virginia. Corpsmen also served with the Marine Corps. 
     Of all the Corpsmen in World War Two, those serving with the Marines perhaps had the most gruelling assignment. As they appeared on the beaches in the Pacific, they became targets themselves as they braved fire to reach fallen comrades. At place like Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Peleliu, Saipan, Tinian, Kwajalein, Iwo Jima and Okinawa Corpsmen often died in greater numbers than the Marines; Hospital Corps casualties in the 4th Marine Division at Iwo Jima, for example, were 38 percent. 
     Things changed after World War Two when the title of Pharmacist Mate was changed to the titles of hospital recruit, hospital apprentice, hospitalman, hospital corpsmen third, second, and first class, and chief hospital corpsman with senior chief and master chief hospital corpsman being added in 1958. Also, the red Geneva cross which had marked corpsmen for 50 years was replaced with the original symbol of the winged caduceus. 
     Disproportionate to their numbers was their heroism. In Korea, Hospital Corpsmen earned 281 Bronze Star Medals, 113 Silver Star Medals, and 23 Navy Crosses and all five enlisted Navy Medals of Honor were awarded to Navy Corpsmen serving with the Marines.
     The most dangerous role for Corpsman in Vietnam was in the field with the Marines and SEAL teams. Fifteen Corpsmen were killed in action when the Marine headquarters in Beirut, Lebanon was attacked and destroyed by a suicide truck bomber on October 23, 1983.
     Today Corpsmen perform as assistants in the prevention and treatment of disease and injury, assist with physical examinations, provide patient care, and administer medicines, perform laboratory, pharmacy, and other support services. They are involved in administrative, supply and accounting procedures within medical departments. 
     They serve as instructors for both medical and non-medical personnel in first aid, self-aid, hygiene, and medical records maintenance. They assist in the maintenance of environmental health standards, and are prepared to assist in the prevention and treatment of casualties and in the transportation of the sick and injured. Corpsmen are also trained as technicians perform specialized functions such as x-ray technicians, lab technicians, etc. 
     The Corps encourages the idea that "Marine" is an earned title and most Marine Corps personnel take to heart the phrase "Once a Marine, Always a Marine". They reject the term "ex-Marine" and in most circumstances those who are no longer on active duty are often still referred to as "Marine."  According to Commandant Alfred M. Gray, Jr., referring to a Marine by their last earned rank is appropriate.  I am proud to have served as a Corpsman with the US Marine Corps.

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