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On Being A Peacetime U.S. Navy Corpsman

Updated on May 6, 2017
Dan W Miller profile image

The Vanilla Godzilla was raised and lived in Simi Valley/Thousand Oaks CA. Veteran. Divorced 1996, kids, grandkids. In Phoenix since 2000

The author at a Navy medical medical facility Whidbey Island Naval Hospital, Washington circa 1980. Hospital Corpsmen are called "Doc" especially on the battlefield.
The author at a Navy medical medical facility Whidbey Island Naval Hospital, Washington circa 1980. Hospital Corpsmen are called "Doc" especially on the battlefield.

THREE STORIES - My first experience of the importance of my job happened two weeks into Hospital Corpsman Training School. This was five minutes that changed my

The second week of Hospital Corpsman's training school in San Diego seemed like just a big joke to us. No war was going on, we all disrespected our instructor, goofed off, never studied, partied all night and thought we were all going to be chasing nurses around a Naval hospital in eight more weeks. Then HE WALKED IN.

Suddenly the heavy oak classroom door slammed shut and jolted us to attention in our seats as our lives would be changed forever. Right then at that moment I started to take A LOT more seriously what an honor, a privilege and what it REALLY meant to be a real US NAVY CORPSMAN.

KASLAMMMM!!!! the door echoed! "SIT DOWN AND SHUT THE HELL UP RIGHT NOW!!" he bellowed. Who WAS this guy? He walked with a limp, had a black navy issue eyepatch over one eye, rows of ribbons covered his chest and he was a Hospital Corpsman 1st class petty officer. Never did catch his name. He looked around the room at us "newbies" with utter disgust letting us drink him in and began a 5 minute speech that was not meant to be a Q &A. We were there to listen only.

My Whole Outlook On My Field Of Study Is Suddenly Changed

"The United States Hospital Corpsman is thee most posthumously decorated rating in the entire armed forces IN THE WORLD!" he began, "That means AFTER YOU'RE DEAD!" An audible "gulp" resonated throughout the classroom. Never thought I could be called upon to defend our country in war at any second.

"You ever see those clips of D Day and those US Marines dropping like flies just as they hit the beach?" he calmly implored. "Well, some of those ARE CORPSMEN!" and continued to frighten us more.

"YOU HIT THE BEACH JUST LIKE A MARINE DOES and they will affectionately call you "Doc" because YOU are the only medical personnel in battle fighting side by side with them." he said as he began to limp back and forth in front of us.


"You must keep them alive until a real doctor can treat them, a helicopter picks them up or you have done everything in your physical capacity including give your OWN BLOOD to that soldier in your efforts to keep him alive" he seemingly recited from a unwritten law by heart, "OR until he is DEAD lying in your arms! And believe me, you WILL take every single death to heart and blame yourself for not being able to do more for that man who would have SURELY have given his OWN LIFE fighting for YOU!" he continued.

"Those four Marines hoisting the flag up at Iwo Jima? One is a U.S. Navy Corpsman! You have the responsibility of every marine, sailor and every Mother's son, so help you, God to bring them back home alive. EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM! IT IS YOUR JOB AND YOUR LIFE WILL DEPEND UPON IT! DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?" he bellowed out at us.

We All Sit In Stunned Silence

The rest of his speech was lost as I couldn't concentrate on what he was saying just thinking about my own mortality and that I was probably destined to die if war was declared at that moment. When he was finished he turned on his shiny black heel, limped out of the classroom and angrily slammed the heavy polished oak classroom door behind him. KASLAMMMM!!

Complete silence in the classroom. I was in utter shock. Our instructor, a Navy nurse full lieutenant had a smirk on his face and told us to go take a five minute break. But no one moved for a few seconds. No one really heard him clearly. No one wanted to be that bunch of stupidass Corpsmen a few minutes ago and it seemed we were all anxious to learn our job the correct way starting right now. I know I did!

Eventually most of us sheepishly and reluctantly shuffled out of class. Some just sat stone faced in their chairs the entire break time. Outside we all just silently stared at the ground not speaking. The only sound were the shoes of the ones stepping on cigarette butts.

From that moment on I took being a Corpsman A LOT more seriously. I tried harder, I studied harder and when I graduated and reported to my duty station, I stayed after my shift to make sure my patient would be cared for properly and you don't get overtime pay for that in the military. I put my heart and my soul into my job while I STILL proudly let anyone I know that I AM A US NAVY HOSPITAL CORPSMAN!

HM2 Daniel W. Miller USN-USNR

One Life Leaves So That One Life May Arrive


The doctors had decided the staff would keep her body alive so the fetus could develop, grow and eventually birth. I was a fresh US Navy Corpsman just out of Hospital Corpsman School and assigned to the unit. Barely 21 years old, my job was to keep her "alive" on the night shift.

She was my age, Latina, almost seven months pregnant and had complained of a headache when she arrived in the E.R. but then dramatically "stroked out" right there in front of the staff while they scrambled to just keep her breathing. A ventilator was instantly hooked up to her and an hour later here was our patient, actually TWO patients, presented to us in the M.I.C.U. at Camp Pendleton Naval Hospital. She was dead. Out. Brainwaves flat lining dead. But baby was still alive. Just too soon to birth.

For nearly two months, the entire staff had personally taken it upon ourselves to mimic life in the mother's body and to keep the baby alive. The amount of tubes, wires, monitors, doctors, nurses and corpsmen surrounding her daily was astounding. I found myself hanging around long after my assigned shift while checking on mama and the baby even on my day off.

Fetal Distress and Everyone Jumps In To Help

One morning after the long night shift, I was relieved by the next shift crew and went to get some morning chow in the downstairs kitchen. As was my nature and out of habit, I went back up to the unit to check on "our special patients" before heading "home" across the street to the barracks.

Suddenly I could see the unit was a whirlwind of doctors yelling and our staff furiously applying their hands on knowledge behind the curtain around her bed that had been drawn for the very first time. Apparently, just after I'd left the unit, the baby exhibited signs of fetal distress. The time had finally come for birth and absolutely had to be done immediately, I was told!

Somebody Is Here To See You

Suddenly, we heard a wail, a tiny cry and then screams of joy from us all! HE WAS HEALTHY, crying the joyful cry of LIFE through his lungs!

I cried. We all cried and hugged each other and cheered loudly as the pink baby was whisked away past us in an incubator to another part of the hospital. We all watched as our efforts for the past two months were well worth it but sad too because mother was then also being prepared for the morgue.

But WE DID IT! WE had all helped to give birth to a healthy baby into the world! And he was OUR BABY!

The author on board the aircraft carrier USS Ranger CV-61 on the flight deck
The author on board the aircraft carrier USS Ranger CV-61 on the flight deck
HM2 [Hospital Corpsman Second Class] Dan W. MILLER
HM2 [Hospital Corpsman Second Class] Dan W. MILLER

I'll Never Forget Navy Nurse LtCdr Marilyn A. Day

Working in the M.I.C.U. of Camp Pendleton Naval Hospital at my first job in the navy was tough! Almost all "newbie" Hospital Corpsmen had to work on the "bedpan wards" of the hospital first. The general med wards.

But I, and my convincing ways, had swayed the Commanding Chief of Nurses to take a chance on me and now I thought that maybe I was in over my head.

The head of the medical intensive care unit was a woman 5 feet tall, about 98 pounds and I was SCARED TO DEATH OF HER! She was black as night, came from a deeply segregated south and had a permanent scowl on her face. Her initials were M.A.D. - Lt.Cmdr Marilyn A. Day and she demanded everyone (no matter WHAT rank) before you addressed her to say, "Good morning" or depending on the time of day and then to state your business.

My name for the first three months of working there was a snap of her fingers and a, "YOU!" yelled out. I was bound and determined to show HER what I was made of and studied my job intently, even staying after my shift to learn more.
Finally after that initial 90 day humiliation period, I felt like I had arrived when she yelled out, "MILLER! NOW!" I almost smiled openly at her but dared not to! She demanded perfection and never let you know if you were doing well only if you were NOT.

After about six months I found out she really loved her nation, loved her staff and loved her Navy softball. Our hospital softball team was the only Navy team on a Marine Corps base of about 40.
Let's face it, I was GOOD, too. Playing center field and batting lead off (at 6'6"?!) because I made several diving catches per game and nearly always got on base. So I invited Miss Day to a game.

Miss Day MADE ME Do My Best In Everything

There she sat stoic and proud in her nursing uniform. The white contrasted with her coal black skin. I was always cocky and before I approached the plate to lead off our half of the first inning, I said, "Watch THIS, Miss Day!" She didn't bat an eyelash looking unimpressed.

I ripped a pitch to deep right center field and knew right away I had a sure double. But when they threw the ball in, I had clipped the corner of the base with my cleat and kept right on speeding towards third.
The Marine was caught off guard and threw high to third but that didn't matter anyway because I had already passed that base and was headed straight for the plate like the 5:15 pm Northern Pacific train heading for home on a Friday!

The catcher caught the ball way before I'd arrived by at least three running steps and I looked to be a sure out. 1, 2, 3, CRASH!! I flew head first into him (this was military softball in the '70's. You were allowed to play hard!) sending him flying backwards knocking him out cold.
I got up, stomped on the plate hard with my right cleat. My navy blue uniform pants ripped open to expose a bloody knee.

The stands were full and cheering wildly as I jogged past Miss Day who sat behind the screen politely clapping and asked her, "So how was THAT Miss Day?!"
She feigned indifference and replied, "meh." But she ended it with a rye smile and wink in my direction.

At NAS Naval Air Station Minneapolis, MN.

The author (rt.) a bit out of uniform (there are no "navy issue" cowboy hats.) Yes, we flew in on THAT "bucket of bolts" plane in a snow storm!
The author (rt.) a bit out of uniform (there are no "navy issue" cowboy hats.) Yes, we flew in on THAT "bucket of bolts" plane in a snow storm!

Did You Know That the Men Raising the Flag at Iwo Jima Were Four Marines and a Us Navy Corpsman?

Anyone had any encounters with Hospital Corpsmen? Care to share?

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    • Dan W Miller profile image

      Dan W Miller 2 years ago from Southern California now living in Phoenix since 2000

      Someday I want to get on SOME KIND of Level Commeter!

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Rivetting stuff Dan. The woman kept on life support so her baby could go to full term was touching, and Miss A Day (MAD).. Love it, and the man who made you suddenly start taking being a corpsman seriously..great stuff. Voted up.

    • Dan W Miller profile image

      Dan W Miller 2 years ago from Southern California now living in Phoenix since 2000

      I seem to have a plethora of human interest stories I've experienced that are so unbelievable. Maybe because I involve myself in areas of life that I am curious about and want to know more about. I'm never one to stay in my "comfort zone"... whatever THAT is.

      Thanks moon. Always so appreciative of those who... uh well... APPRECIATE my efforts!

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 2 years ago from America

      I enjoyed your stories of the baby and Miss Day. How great that the baby made it, sad that his Mom didn't make it. Voted up and will share.