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Celebration held honoring Navy Hospital Corps' 106th birthday

24 Jun 2004 | Staff Sgt. Michael Reed

The Marines, Sailors and civilians employees of Blount Island Command celebrated the U.S. Navy Hospital Corps' 106th Birthday June 17 with a short observance and cake-cutting ceremony here.

During the ceremony, Maj. Jens Curtis, commanding officer, Head-quarters Company, spoke about the importance and contributions of the Navy corpsmen within the command.

The traditional passing of the first piece of cake from the oldest to the youngest was conducted between John R. Beaumont, senior medical quality assurance specialist, and Petty Officer 3rd Class Mark Madole, medical quality assurance specialist.

Madole, who was born Feb. 19, 1981, represented the youngest Sailor.  He enlisted into the Navy on July 13, 1999.

Beaumont, who was born Sept. 29, 1948, retired from the Navy in Oct. 1988 after 21 years of service. He enlisted in the Navy in 1967.

Prior to cutting the cake, Beaumont spoke about the actions of hospital corpsmen during World War II and the Vietnam War, citing heroic actions of corpsmen and the unique relationship between Marines and the "Doc."

According to Beaumont, "combat corpsmen still have the drive and determination to perform "medical miracles" in times of peace and war."

Although corpsmen go back to the very beginning of the Navy, it was more than 100 years ago, on June 17, 1898, that the Hospital Corps was officially established.

In 1814, Navy regulations mention a "loblolly boy" who was to serve the surgeon and the surgeon's mate.  The loblolly boy prepared for battle by filling containers with water to hold amputated limbs.  In addition, his duties called for maintaining the braziers of charcoal to heat the tar used to stop the hemorrhaging from the amputations.

Keeping the deck safe for the surgeon around the operating area was a duty during battle.  The deck, slippery with blood, was to be treated with buckets of sand.  Although this may sound gruesome, cannon balls and cutlasses were not tidy weapons.  Amputation was the standard treatment for compound fractures.

The "surgeon's steward" replaced the loblolly boy.  Recognizing the need for additional trained help, surgeons selected promising young men for training in elementary medicine.  More than a cleanup person, this specialist is probably the true forerunner of today's corpsmen.

When Congress established the Hospital Corps, the Secretary of the Navy appointed 25 senior "apothecaries" as pharmacists.  The apothecaries were the Hospital Corps' charter members.

Throughout their history, 22 corpsmen have been awarded the Medal of Honor - America's highest decoration for heroism, many of whom were awarded posthumously.

The Hospital Corps is the Navy's only organization to receive a blanket commendation from the Secretary of the Navy.  A proud heritage of heroism and patriotism is found amongst the ranks of hospital corpsmen everywhere.

Corpsmen serve aboard all Navy ships, air squadrons, hospitals, clinics, Navy Seal Teams, as well as with every U.S. Marine Corps unit.  Corpsmen who serve with the Marines, armed only with a side arm for protection, have earned a special place in the realms of military history as true heroes.

The following is an excerpt of the commendation received from then-Secretary of the Navy James V. Forrestal: 

"Out of every 100 men of the United States Navy and Marine Corps who were wounded in World War II, 97 were recovered.

That is a record not equaled anywhere anytime.

Every individual who was thus saved from death owes an everlasting debt to the Navy's Hospital Corps. The Navy is indebted to the corps. The entire nation is its debtor for thousands of citizens are living normal, constructive, happy and productive lives who, but for the skill and toil of the Hospital Corps, might be dead or disheartened by crippling invalidism.

So, to the 200,000 men and women of the Hospital Corps, I say on behalf of the United States Navy: "Well Done. Well done, indeed!"

Without your service, the Navy's Medical Corps could not have achieved the life-saving record and the mind-saving record its physicians and surgeons and psychiatrists achieved. That others might live, your fellow corpsmen have given their lives; 889 of them were killed or mortally wounded. Others died as heroically from disease they were trying to combat. In all, the Corps' casualty list contains 1,724 names, an honor roll of special distinction because none among them bore arms.

The hospital corpsmen saved lives on all the beaches that the Marines stormed. Corpsmen were at the forefront of every invasion, in all the actions at sea, on all carrier decks. You were on your own in submarines and the smaller ships of the fleet, performing emergency surgery at times when you had to take the fearsome responsibility of trying to save a life by heroic means or see the patient die. Your presence at every post of danger gave immeasurable confidence to your comrades under arms. Their bravery was fortified by the knowledge that the corpsmen, the sailor of solace, were literally at their sides with the skill and means to staunch wounds, allay pain and to carry them bac, if need be, to safe shelter and the ministrations of the finest medical talent in the world.

You corpsmen performed fox-hole 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 brassards on your arms. On Iwo Jima, for example, the percentage of casualties among your corps was greater than the proportion of losses among the Marines. Two of your colleagues who gave their lives in that historic battle were posthumously cited for the Medal of Honor.

One of the citations reads: "By his great personal valor in saving others at the sacrifice of his own life, (he) inspired his companions, although terrifically outnumbered, to launch a fiercely determined attack and repulse the enemy force."

All that he had in his hands were the tools of mercy, yet he won a memorable victory at the cost of his own life.

No wonder men and women are proud to wear the emblem of the Hospital Corps! It is a badge of mercy and valor, a token of unselfish service in the highest calling - the saving of life in the service of your country.

Your corps' men and women toiled, often and dangerously, never less vitally, in areas remote from battle, in hospitals, on hospital ships, in airplanes, in laboratories and pharmacies and dispensaries. They helped, and are helping (for the task is far from over) in the salvage of men's broken bodies and minds that is the grim product and perennial aftermath of war. Some of you contributed skills in dental technology; some engaged in pest control to diminish unfamiliar diseases; others taught natives of distant islands the benefits of modern hygiene, even to midwifery and everyday sanitation.

Scores of corpsmen, made prisoners of war, used their skill and strength to retain life and hope in their fellow captives through long years of imprisonment and deprivation.

Whatever their duty, wherever they were, the men and women of the Hospital Corps served the Navy and served humanity, with exemplary courage, sagacity and effort. The performance of their duties has been "in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service." That, to any man or woman, is the highest of praise.  The corps has earned it and continues to earn it.

For, as I said, the task is not yet completed. Thousands of the war's casualties will long need the ministrations of physicians, nurses and the Hospital Corps before they can return to normal peacetime pursuits. Hundreds may have to be cared for as long as they live; that these unfortunates are so few is due in large measure to the prompt, skillful aid accorded our wounded and stricken, by your corps...

It is no easy profession, even in peacetime. There is danger in the test tubes and culture racks as menacing as in the guns of an unvanquished enemy. The Hospital Corps is never at peace. It is forever on the firing line in the ceaseless war against disease and premature death.

Customarily, the "Well done" signal is reserved for the closing phrase of a message of congratulations, but I placed it in the forefront where, in this instance, it most fittingly belongs. I repeat it here with the postscript that in earning its "well done" the Hospital Corps is assured no other unit in the Navy did better in the degree of essential duty inspiringly performed."

Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany