15th MEU News

15th MEU (SOC) combat corpsmen uphold proud legacy

23 Feb 2003 | Cpl. Anthony R. Blanco

Ever since the birth of the Corps in 1775, Marines and Sailors have served side-by-side on naval vessels.

Rich within that history is the bond between the Marine and the hospital corpsman. Only twenty-three short years after the first Marines began their sea service, Navy corpsman stepped up and began providing the medical care of Marines.  To this day Navy corpsmen, also known as 'Doc,' have saved countless Marines' lives since 1798.

The Navy corpsmen attached to the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) are no different from the past corpsmen and still carry the special Marine Corps and Navy bond. 

Marines and Sailors recently debarked from the Tarawa Amphibious Ready Group in support of United States and Coalition forces building up in Kuwait. 

Navy corpsmen are here to support any action necessary and that will add another page to their illustrious history with their participation in Operation Enduring Freedom and a possible confrontation with Iraq.

During World War II, Navy corpsmen performed emergency medical treatment on wounded Marines while under heavy enemy fire. 

In 1945, the Secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal, commended corpsmen when he said, "The hospital corpsmen saved lives on all the beaches Marines stormed.  You corpsmen performed foxhole surgery while shell fragments clipped your clothing, shattered the plasma bottles from which you poured new life into the wounded, and sniper's bullets were aimed at the (red cross) brassards on your arms."

Seven Navy corpsmen received the Medal of Honor, the nations highest award, and 67 corpsmen received the Navy Cross, the Navy's second highest award, by performing above and beyond the call of duty during World War II.

Although corpsmen don't usually have a degree in medical science and are younger than most doctors, they do more than what some doctors only dream about, according to Chief David D. Jones, 37, the BLT 2/1 medical chief, a Brooklyn N.Y. native.  Jones has spent 12 of his 18 years in the Navy with Marine Corps units.

By working in an environment where a fighting hole or a bunker could be the operating room, the Navy implemented Field Medical Service Schools at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., and Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., in 1950 to better train corpsmen in the field.

Before corpsmen can attach to an infantry unit they must complete the course, according to HM2 (FMF) Tommy L. Johnson, a hospital corpsman with Trailer Platoon, Battalion Landing Team 2/1, 15th MEU (SOC).  Johnson, whose previous duty assignment was at Siganelli Naval Air Station, Italy, said he was looking forward to working with an infantry Marine unit.

"When I got orders to [Camp Horno on Camp Pendleton], I was excited because I got the opportunity to work with the best fighting force in world," the 23-year-old Richmond, Calif., native said. 

Because medical doctors don't fight on the front line with the Marine units, corpsmen are challenged by making-on-the-spot life-saving decisions.

In Vietnam, approximately 16 percent of casualties on the front lines were critically injured and it was up to the corpsmen to save the lives of those Marines, according to Navy Lt. Michael B. Humble, 30, the BLT 2/1 surgeon, who is a native of Russellville, Ky.

"I trust them to make [important] decisions," Humble said.  "I believe that the Marines fight better when they know that they have a corpsman there.  It's a comforting feeling knowing that someone is behind you willing to take care of you."

Johnson, who worked for the Navy before coming to a Marine unit, said he wanted to raise the bar and test himself to "hang" with an infantry unit.

"I wanted to bring myself to another level," Johnson said.  "When I walk into a [Naval] hospital and other corpsmen see me wearing my Fleet Marine Force badge, they look at me with pride."

Even Marines in his unit know that he?ll be there to take care of them, whether in battle or back home at Pendleton.

"I love field corpsmen because they do everything we do and they have to know more than we do," said Sgt. Iradj M. Navai, 26, a squad leader with Trailer Platoon, BLT 2/1, and a San Clemente, Calif. native.  "He (Johnson) went out of his way and gave us all medical blow out kits so we could perform self aid and buddy aid if he wasn?t available during combat." The kit contains a variety of field medical dressings and bandages.

Johnson also takes the opportunity during down time to teach his Marines basic medical care.

"In the field, my Marines come first," Johnson said.  "They depend on me and I know that my Marines are going to take care of me if I become injured."

Corpsmen throughout history have proved they are vital to the healthcare of Marines during combat. Lt. Gen. Lewis B. "Chesty" Puller, said to his corpsmen during the Korean War, "You guys are the Marines' doctors; there's no better in the business than Navy Corpsmen.

"They keep us alive in combat, they are our angels," Navai said.  "If you get scared or hurt, all you have to say is 'corpsman up' and there's your angel."

15th Marine Expeditionary Unit