For those of you who have had the opportunity to see the movie “Flags of Our Fathers”, you probably wondered why a Navy man was among the group of Marines that raised that famous flag on Mt. Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima. That sailor was a US Navy Hospital Corpsman who, as a normal course, is assigned to Marine units in combat as their battlefield medical technician.
While the US Army and Air Force train their own medical enlisted personnel, since 1799 the US Navy has provided medical care to both sailors and marines. Officially named the Hospital Corps in 1898 by act of congress, it is the most decorated rating of all branches of the U.S. military and it is the only all enlisted Corps in the military. Twenty three Hospital Corpsmen have won the Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest award, and fourteen ships of the Navy have been named after Hospital Corpsmen.
To become a corpsman assigned to a marine unit is a grueling process. First the potential “medic” must attend the normal eight week Navy Boot Camp where basic military subjects are taught to the new sailor. From here, the next school is Hospital Corpsman which is designed to train the sailor for a specialized role in the medical field, such as Laboratory Technician or Corpsman which covers basic patient care, emergency care, etc. Then if the “medic” is being assigned as a Corpsman with the marines, it is on to the Fleet Marine Force Corpsman School. This school, seven weeks in length, is designed to train the student for dealing with combat trauma on the battlefield and for understanding how the marines operate and function. As stated by one of the instructors in the school, “A bad corpsman is worse than no corpsman at all because a corpsman who doesn’t understand tactics, or walk, talk and act like a marine is going to compromise the mission and get a lot of people killed.” The objective of this last school is to train sailors good enough for their assignment with the marines in combat. The good ones who graduate earn the marines respect; the great ones earn the title of “Doc”.
Stefan Landfried, Grandson of John and Marybell Landfried of Rockwall, entered the US Navy in 2003 with the specific intention of becoming a Corpsman. In July of 2004 he completed his final training and was assigned to his first marine unit located in Twenty Nine Palms, Ca. Three weeks later he and his unit were on their way to Iraq where they were stationed from August, 2004 to April 2005. During this time, Landfried was the Corpsman assigned directly to a marine platoon, a unit of about 35 people, which was involved with city and route security operations in the Western part of Iraq. As stated in the Marine Corps News Service,” treating a scorpion bite, healing an abscess, and removing shards of shrapnel from a friend’s arm due to an IED explosion, is all in a days work for a Corpsman in this assignment.”
After returning to Twenty Nine Palms in April 2005, Landfried’s unit again deployed to Iraq in March of this year and was there until this September. This time his unit was located at a smaller base and spent most of its time in a base security role. Here the work of the Corpsman was somewhat different as now most of Landfrieds work was basic “sick call” stuff. That is treatment of colds, minor infections, and diseases common to Iraq’s desert environment are those most often seen. “The dirt around here is filled with lots of contaminants, so we handle a lot of gastrointestinal problems,” explained Navy Lt Brendon Drew, a battalion surgeon. “My corpsmen handle all sorts of problems ranging from respiratory to eye infections.” Landfried says that “special emphasis is placed on insuring the marines use proper hygiene. This helps them stay healthy as there are many G.I. problems and infections prevalent here. The better the hygiene, the less likelihood of a health problem.” He also went on to say that when deployed, the Corpsman looks just like any other marine; “we wear the same body armor, helmet, and weapon, plus we have to carry our medical gear. We are trained like the marines on patrolling procedures, radio operations, and fully understand their mission. If a young man or woman were considering joining the service, I would tell them that it is a tremendous commitment, but it also is tremendously satisfying.”
In a book entitled “Green Side Out’, written by Gene Duncan, USMC, he states “A common description of the 8,404 Corpsmen on duty during the late 60’s and 70’s was “A long haired, bearded sailor who would go through the very gates of Hell to tend to a wounded marine” That pretty much tells you why the Hospital Corps is the most decorated rating of all branches of the US military. Say a special “hello” if you see one of these men or women.
Jerry Hogan is a retired US Army Lt Colonel who lives in Heath. If you have a friend or relative in the service, Active, Reserve, or National Guard, and you would like to see their story here, please contact Jerry at 214-394-4033 or firstname.lastname@example.org