News: Corpmen, Marines, station residents honor fallen comrades, illustrious history
Story by Lance Cpl. Kenneth Trotter
IWAKUNI, Japan - Navy hospital corpsmen celebrated their 113th birthday at the Club Iwakuni ballroom here during the 2011 Navy Hospital Corpsmen Ball June 17. Corpsmen and Marines were both on hand to pay tribute to the sacrifices corpsmen made over the years.
The Vietnam War was the focal point for this year’s ball.
Approximately 638 corpsmen lost their lives during the war. In homage to those corpsmen, a small table was set aside. A small plate of salt symbolized the bittersweet taste of knowing the fallen corpsmen would not be able to join in on the evening’s festivities.
The evening kicked off with the parading of the colors before the arrival of the official party.
The guest of honor this year was Dr. John E. Fortunato. Fortunato served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War from 1967 to 1970.
Fortunato told a story he witnessed during his first tour in Vietnam when a corpsman went above and beyond the call of duty to help a local worker’s child who had fallen gravely ill and was unable to be treated.
“The corpsmen said ‘I really shouldn’t be doing this’ but when he saw the child, he decided to help,” said Fortunato.
At that time, it was against policy to give medical attention to the Vietnamese, regardless if they worked on base or not.
“When I heard him say he shouldn’t instead of he can’t, I decided to press the issue,” Fortunato added.
The child was administered intravenous therapy and was set up in a small, secluded part of the barracks. Two corpsmen took turns watching over the child for several days until the boy was well enough to leave.
Fortunato said he never saw the corpsmen again after the child was well.
“I only knew his last name, but I often wonder if he ever told this story to his children or grandchildren,” said Fortunato. Fortunato kept in touch with the small child over the years, eventually seeing him as a grown man. He said it was because of the selfless care of corpsmen that the child was able to live.
“Corpsmen have to be like parents; selfless,” said Fortunato.
A slideshow presentation was up next. Pictures of Marines and corpsmen filled the screen, showing intersecting moments of the Vietnam War. The crowd was silent as the images appeared.
“It’s humbling standing in the shadow of the rate,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Katie A. Zirkle, a Robert M. Casey Medical and Dental Clinic emergency medical technician. “It makes corpsmen and Marines have a much deeper respect for what it means to be a corpsman.”
Another example of that deeper appreciation and respect came in the form of the corpsman’s pledge. Chief Petty Officer Adrian R. Figueroa, Branch Health Clinic senior enlisted leader, led the
corpsmen in reciting the pledge, reaffirming their allegiance to defending the Marines in their charge.
The last event of the evening was the cake-cutting ceremony. The cake cutting takes place between the oldest and youngest corpsmen present.
The oldest corpsman passing the first slice to the youngest corpsman represents the passing of knowledge from the older generation to the younger generation. The youngest corpsman passing a slice to the oldest corpsman symbolizes keeping the traditions and history of the Navy hospital corps alive.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Zackary Hallowood was the youngest corpsman present. Cmdr. Caesar Odvina was the oldest corpsman.
The Navy hospital corps is one of the largest, and commended, organizations within the Navy. During the Vietnam War, 4,563 corpsmen earned the Purple Heart, along with many others awarded even higher honors.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Jessica M. McDurmon said young corpsmen and Marines who attend the ball should share the experience of knowing they share a common bond. It should be something that fills them with pride.
Navy corpsmen have been an integral part of the Marine Corps since our nation’s beginning. They have fought and died beside Marines, recognizing the importance of being “Doc.” Whether going to the on base naval clinic or in the fields of combat, corpsmen will continue to put themselves in harm’s way to honor their commitment of safeguarding the nation’s Marines.
This work, Corpmen, Marines, station residents honor fallen comrades, illustrious history, by Sgt Kenneth Trotter, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.