Today marks 119 years since the Hospital Corps of the United States Navy was started. Prior to its establishment, medical support in the form of enlisted members of the Navy was scarce. The Army established a Hospital Corps in 1887 and with the Spanish-American War coming soon, Congress passed a bill establishing the US Navy Hospital Corps, which was signed into law by Pres. William McKinley on June 17, 1898. Three rates were created: Hospital Apprentice, Hospital Apprentice First Class (a Petty Officer Third Class), and Hospital Steward, which was a Chief Petty Officer. The Hospital Corps during World War II was the only corps in the US Navy to have a speech delivered by Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal after the war ended.
Early on, medical personnel were assigned to a ship’s company at random and duties included keeping items, such as sand and irons, at the ready in the operating area and surgeons conducted amputations.
Currently, Navy Hospital Corpsmen treat sailors as well as Marines. They serve as assistants to physicians and dentists; specialize in radiology, search and rescue, and preventive medicine; and transportation of the sick. Key responsibilities for Corpsmen include:
- Serve as an operating room technician for general and specialized surgery
- Work in the field with Navy SEALs or Seabees or be assigned to Fleet Marine Force
- Deliver emergency medical or dental treatment to Sailors and Marines in the field
- Help administer a wide range of preventive care
- Perform clinical tests
Corpsmen serve in a variety of capacities including recompressing divers through Hyberbaric Oxygen chambers and battlefield medicine in war zones. To become a Hospital Corpsman, a high-school diploma or equivalent is required as well as good communication skills, a good memory, among other qualifications. Qualifications also vary on if you have never served, are currently serving, or served previously. Basic Training for corpsmen is conducted at the Medical Education and Training Campus at Joint Base Ft. Sam Houston, Texas. The 18-week course goes through a variety of training modules in emergency medicine, disease and pathology, and nursing.
Hospital Corpsmen come from a variety of backgrounds. Hospital Corpsman Second Class Carloconrado Limos comes from a family of military members who served in the Philippines. Limos immigrated to the United States and enlisted as a Hospital Corpsman when he was 22 years old.
“My first duty station was in Iwakuni, Japan, where I worked as the lead emergency medical technician. Part of my responsibilities was to instruct and aid in certifying other hospital corpsmen and Marines,” said Limos. “I enjoyed influencing my Sailors and being a part of their lives. It was an amazing opportunity to help maximize their talents and goals while ensuring the Navy’s mission was met to the highest standards.” Almost six years later, Limos is working towards an associate’s degree in general studies at Vincennes University.
Whether it be Marine Corps combat units, reservist installations, or recruitment offices, Hospital Corpsmen is the most decorated corps in US military history and the most decorated in the United States Navy. The accolades, as of 2016, include:
- 22 Medals of Honor
- 179 Navy Crosses since World War I
- 31 Navy Distinguished Service Medals
- 959 Silver Stars
- More than 1,600 Bronze Star Medals with Combat “V”’s since World War II
- 20 Naval ships named after Hospital Corpsmen
The Purple Heart Foundation would like to wish a Happy 119th Birthday to Hospital Corpsmen around the world who help to keep us healthy at home and abroad. It is our goal to help make the transition from the battlefield to the home front a smooth one for our men and women in uniform who have sacrificed for our freedom. You can show your support for these brave men and women who have sacrificed so much for our country by making a one-time or monthly pledge to ensure veterans continue to get the support they deserve by donating here.