I wrote earlier in this blog about meeting former navy corpsmen recently and how moved I was by their stories. The more I learn about corpsmen and what these men experienced, the more troubled I am. I just learned that the number of corpsmen killed in Vietnam was 639.
The corpsmen are naval personnel assigned to operate as medics with Marine combat units. I encountered them when I was providing signals intelligence support to the Marines in Vietnam. As I described in previous blog posts, my experience in combat damaged my psyche permanently; my memory still holds things I can’t talk about.
But my experience pales in comparison to what corpsmen went through. My job was to learn what the enemy was doing and to target hostile units. The corpsmen were there to take care of the wounded. They saved lives by their work. But they also had to face repeatedly, time after time, in every battle, the ghastly things that combat does to the human body.
I have tried, through my writing, to inform readers about the unspeakably gruesome catastrophes inherent in combat. I’ve talked about survivor’s guilt—why was the guy next to me hideously killed and I escaped unharmed? The daily lot of corpsmen is to cope directly with the savagery of combat. That’s their job. How any of them survive sane is miraculous. They are better, stronger, braver men than I have ever been.
Both of the former corpsmen I’ve met struggle with from Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI). My guess is that all corpsmen do. How could anyone go through what they go through and not suffer an unhealable wound to the soul?