forerunner of the Independent Duty Hospital
Hospital Corpsmen were assigned to the multitude
of duty types and locations needed to support a Navy
involved in a world war. Naval hospitals were opened
and staffed. Ships and aircraft squadrons were given
medical support. At sea, the dangers of the new war
were ever present.
Naval training facilities and shore establishments
needed Hospital Corpsmen, as did occupation forces in
Haiti and other bases around the world. But World War
I provided the Hospital Corps a role that would afford it
some of the most dangerous challenges it would ever
face: duty with the Marine Corps.
Assignment to Marine Corps units was not
completely new. Hospital Corpsmen were serving
with Marine occupational forces in Cuba, Haiti, and
Santo Domingo at the outbreak of the war, and they had
seen other similar service. It was the change of the
Marine Corps role to one of expeditionary forces in a
large-scale ground war that changed what Hospital
Corpsmen would do.
Sick call and preventive
medicine were continuous roles that remained
unchanged. Facing artillery, mustard gas, and machine
gunfire were new experiences.
A heritage of valorous service with the Marines
was born, as evidenced by two Hospital Corpsmen
receiving the Medal of Honor. Other decorations to
Hospital Corpsmen included 55 Navy Crosses, 31
Army Distinguished Service Crosses, 2 Navy
Distinguished Service Medals, and 237 Silver Stars. A
hundred foreign personal decorations were granted to
Navy Hospital Corpsmen, and 202 earned the right to
wear the French Fourragère shoulder aiguillette
permanently. Their 684 personal awards make the
Hospital Corps, by one account, the most decorated
American unit of World War I.
PHARMACISTS MATES IN WORLD
World War II became the period of Hospital Corps
greatest manpower, diversity of duty, and instance of
sacrifice. Between 1941 and 1945, the ranks of this
small organization swelled from its prewar levels of
near 4,000 to more than 132,000 personnel. This
increase came to fulfill new responsibilities with new
technologies at new duty stations. In the face of great
adversity, the Hospital Corps would cement its
reputation for effectiveness and bravery.
The Navys fleet expanded to thousands of ships,
and the Marine Corps grew from a few regiments to six
A two-ocean war produced horrific
numbers of casualties, and the Hospital Corps grew to
meet the needs of casualty collection, treatment, and
convalescence. To educate the influx of new Sailors,
Hospital Corps Training School at Portsmouth,
Virginia, was augmented by a temporary school at
Naval Hospital Brooklyn, New York. The school at
Great Lakes was recreated in 1942, and others were
started at Farragut, Idaho, and at Bainbridge,
Maryland, in 1943.
A separate Hospital Corps
Training School was established for women (fig.
APP-I-3) at Bethesda, Maryland, in January 1944.
Specialized schools were opened to train pharmacists
mates for independent duty and for service with the
Marines. Additionally, courses were established to
instruct personnel on new equipment and techniques in
dozens of developing medical fields.
Shore-based duty sent Hospital Corps personnel to
hospitals and dispensaries in the United States and
abroad. Advance-base hospitals on newly captured
Pacific islands formed a crucial link in the chain of
evacuation from battle sites. Those facilities in Hawaii or
England received casualties from their respective fronts,
and wounded service personnel recuperated in Stateside
hospitals. Hospital Corpsmen made the treatment of
American casualties possible at each of these by
providing technical support and direct patient care.
Duty on surface ships afforded Hospital Corpsmen
numerous challenges and abundant environments in
which to face them.
Hospital ships required the
services of personnel in much the same way as
shore-based hospitals, except that those on ship were
afloat and subject to attack. Other classes of vessels,
such as landing ships and patrol craft (LSTs and
PCERs), became large floating clinics/ambulances
which required additional Hospital Corps personnel.
Additionally, combatant ships and transports in the
Atlantic, Pacific, and Mediterranean theaters took
casualties from ships, aircraft, and submarines
throughout the war, necessitating the service of
well-trained Hospital Corpsmen.
Approximately 300 Hospital Corpsmen sat out all
but the early days of the war when they were captured in
the Philippines by the invading Japanese.
prisoner-of-war camps and huddled in POW hell ships,
they endured malnutrition, disease, torture, and brutality.
One hundred thirty-two Hospital Corpsmen died as
prisoners during World War II, a death rate almost 20
percent higher than among other American POWs.