Dr. Tom’s War and Corpsmen: The Backstory

I blogged here some weeks ago about my encounters with corpsmen in Vietnam. I explained 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.”

What prompted my reflections on corpsmen was meeting one some months ago at a gathering celebrating Vietnam veterans. When one of my fellow vets introduced himself as Doc Noah, I knew immediately that he had been a corpsman—all corpsmen are called “Doc.” A few weeks later, he came across my review of J.M. Graham’s Arizona Moon (you can read the review at http://www.washingtonindependentreviewofbooks.com/bookreview/arizona-moon-a-novel-of-vietnam). Graham was also a corpsman, and Doc Noah remembered him. He asked me if I knew how he could get in touch with Graham. I contacted the publisher and asked that Noah’s email address be sent to Graham, but Noah never heard from him.

Further email exchanges led to Noah recommending the Viti book I blogged about in my last post. Since I felt the urge to write a novel about a corpsman with Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI), I bought the book. Noah is prominently featured in the story. My comments on the book resulted in Noah putting me in touch with the author, Lucia Viti. She has offered to help me with my research on corpsmen.

I don’t yet know if all this will lead to a new novel. I don’t choose what I write about. The impulse to tell a story takes me over, and I can only find peace by writing down what my imagination dictates. That’s how Last of the Annamese came to be written. It looks like the pattern will play out again.

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