During the years that I provided signals intelligence support to combat units in Vietnam, a number of times I ran into men called “corpsmen” serving with Marine units. Eventually I came to understand that these men were not Marines but enlisted men in the US Navy. I knew that other services have medics on the battlefield—they’re called field medics or combat medics—but I learned that the Marine Corps does not. Navy corpsmen fill this role.
Over the years in Vietnam, I learned more about corpsmen. They are officially referred to as US Navy Hospital Corpsmen. My understanding is that there are no officer corpsmen. All are enlisted. Because of the urgent work they do, corpsmen are the most decorated rating of all branches of the service. And the US Navy has named fourteen of its ships after corpsmen.
Twice recently I’ve come across two former corpsmen. One was at the Naval Support Activity USO celebration of Vietnam veterans last Friday in Bethesda, Maryland. When another vet introduced himself as “Doc,” I knew immediately what his service had been. How often did I hear the call for “Doc” among Marines on the battlefield. All corpsmen are called “Doc.”
The other is a reader of my books who is in prison. I mentioned him in an earlier blog. I knew he was a Vietnam vet, but I only recently learned he was a corpsman. I knew he suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Injury from his experiences in combat, but only now am I beginning to imagine what he must have gone through. I suspect that had he not been soul-damaged, he never would have gotten into trouble with the law.
I am humbled and grateful that he reads my writing and sees me as a brother who shares his affliction.