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Talking with Sailors

"Doctor in the House"

The Beginnings of Hospital Corpsmen

The sea's tone was corrupted by a forceful wind and a change in barometric pressure. The haze-gray fog was the perfect cover for the attack. Now that the battle was over, though victorious, the fight for survival continues.

The Sailors still have to fight the ship while others fight for their lives. Their ear-drums are playing the triangle, or so it seems, because the ringing of cannon fire is still fresh in their heads. In every quiet moment, a break in silence. Screams of pain well up from deep within the poorly-lit wooden vessel. Forward of the ship, just below the waterline, another Sailor is brought to the butcher's block. The doc calls it the operating table and will need some help if he's going to save the Sailor's life...

In the Continental Navy and the early U.S. Navy, medical assistants were assigned at random from the ship's company. These Sailors were the forerunners of today's Navy hospital corpsmen.

There has always been a need for a "doctor in the house," someone to care for the sick and injured Sailors and help them recover from their ailments.

They were nicknamed "Loblolly boys." They cleaned and inventoried surgical instruments and managed medical supplies and stocks of herbs and medicines. They also restrained patients during surgery and disposed of amputated limbs. The name "Loblolly," derived from one of their responsibilities to serve daily rations of "Loblolly," a thick bubbly porridge.

Becoming an official rate in 1814, "loblolly boys" held much of the same responsibilities as corpsmen do today. Though their title changed several times-from loblolly boy, to nurse then bayman, and finally what we know today as hospital corpsman, their mission has always remained the same.

Hospital corpsmen have broad-based training in subjects of medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, basic life support, emergency medical technician-basic curricula, as well as various aspects of nursing and primary patient care. These complex duties are the culmination of past and present trials and tribulations that have tested the mettle of Navy Hospital Corpsmen.

Few Navy ratings can reflect with such pride as can the members of the Navy Hospital Corps. Since its inception in 1898, the Hospital Corps has proven itself ready to provide medical support for Sailors and Marines whenever and wherever necessary.

These Sailors proved to be a vital asset throughout our nation's history.

At the end of World War II, the Hon. James Forrestal, secretary of the Navy during the time, and later the first Secretary of Defense, honored the Hospital Corps of the United States Navy, saying, "Out of every 100 men of the United States Navy and Marine Corps who were wounded in World War II, 97 recovered. That is a record not equaled anywhere, anytime."

Forrestal went on to say individuals saved from death by a Navy Corpsman owe great debt to the Navy's Hospital Corps and thousands of citizens live normal lives because of the corpsmen and their presence on the battlefield. The country is in debt to the corps. Without them, many people might have been killed or left crippled and depressed for the rest of their life.

Today Hospital Corpsmen assist health care professionals in providing medical and dental care and perform other duties that aid in the prevention and treatment of disease and injury. They may also be assigned as Independent Duty Corpsman aboard ships and submarines, attached to expeditionary or special-warfare units, or assigned to isolated duty stations where no Medical Officer is available.

In the business of saving lives armed with only the tools of mercy, it is no wonder these Sailors are viewed as heroes. The emblem of the Hospital Corps is a badge of mercy and valor, a token of unselfish and unwavering service in the highest calling - the saving of life in the service of one's country.