Corpsman Up!

By Corpsman Ronald C. Mosbaugh
  2/1 Hotel Company 1966-1967


Email: [email protected]
The phrase, “Corpsman Up!” speaks volumes.  The name “Corpsman” separates us from the rest of the Navy; especially if you were an 8404 Fleet Marine Force (FMF) Corpsman.  I am proud to have been a Combat Corpsman and would like to tell you my story.

In 1962 my twin brother and I joined the Naval Reserves in Joplin, Missouri.  We were juniors in high school.  We went to the Naval Reserve meetings every Monday night until we graduated from high school.  Upon graduation we went to Great Lakes, Illinois, for boot camp.  We both decided to become Hospital Corpsmen and enrolled in a 16-week class “A” Hospital Corpsman School.

My first duty station was at the Oakland Naval Hospital, in Oakland, California, which was also called “Oak Knoll”.  This was my first exposure to trauma.  This facility treated veterans who had lost their arms and legs in the Vietnam War. They also fitted prostheses for these veterans.  Many who were my age; their lives were changed forever.  Other military hospitals treated burns, blindness, loss of hearing, disfigurement, paraplegics and quadriplegics – you get the idea.  I saw firsthand how these soldiers experienced the psychological, physical and emotional trauma of combat.

Seeing these wounded soldiers made me realize the seriousness of this war.  I knew that within a few months I would be leaving for Vietnam; Corpsmen were in high demand. (The naval recruiter didn’t tell me all the pitfalls of my enlistment).  For several months at the hospital, I pondered the situation I was about to encounter.  I didn’t want to be one of the casualties!  I felt fear, apprehension and loneliness; my whole life seemed out of control.  It’s weird.  The thought of dying didn’t bother me as much as losing a limb or becoming disfigured.

Several months later I received orders to the Fleet Marine Forces at Camp Pendleton, California.  I remember the second day at Pendleton.  I was asked to report to the office; evidently the Marines didn’t think too much of the bumper sticker on my car.  It said, “The Marines do have a few good men, Navy Corpsmen.”  I was told to take it off immediately!  

During the 5-week course, we were trained by Marines under battlefield conditions. The training was extensive.  We were taught field medicine, field operations and how to survive in a combat situation.  After weapons familiarization, I qualified expert with a 45 cal. pistol and M-14 rifle. Corpsmen are life-savers, and at the same time can be life-takers. We take and return fire.  But most importantly, we listen for the words "Corpsman Up”!

Being a Corpsman is arguably the most dangerous job in the Navy and is by far the most decorated occupation specialty.  More than twenty Medals of Honor were awarded to Navy Corpsmen for actions during battles. Many Corpsmen were highly decorated.  During my thirteen month tour, I was awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts.

I reported to the First Marine Division, Second Battalion, Hotel Company in Da Nang, Vietnam. Our company of 120 Marines was situated 26 miles south of Da Nang. My first aid clinic was set up in an old French school house. Each company was allotted six Corpsmen, however, the most we ever had at one time were three!.  During the Vietnam War, we lost 690 Navy/USMC Corpsmen!  Almost 5000 received the Purple Heart.

Each time the Marines went on a patrol a Corpsman had to be with them; therefore, we were running patrols day and night. The day I reported to our company I no sooner got settled when I was summoned to report to a 12-man squad going on a search and destroy mission. I grabbed my B-1 medical kit, 45 cal. pistol and M-14 rifle, and I was on my first patrol.  I don’t mind telling you my anxiety level was very high!  Within the first two hours, we made contact with the Vietcong.  Then the inevitable happened; a Marine yelled, “Corpsman Up”!  I ran as close to the ground as I could and stopped when I got to the squad leader.  He said I need you to help that wounded Marine in the rice paddy.  He was about forty yards out in open ground.  I thought to myself; is he kidding me!  I stepped off the dike into the rice paddy. The mud was so deep each time I stepped the suction from the boot made it hard to move forward.  My adrenalin was running so fast that I was worn out within the first few steps.

The fear that I felt and the chaos around me made it even more unbearable!  I tried to move as fast as I could but it felt like I was moving in slow motion!  I heard a bullet whiz past my head and some water splashed from a VC bullet.   This was the incentive to pick up my pace.  When I got to the wounded Marine, he was in bad shape.  I treated him as fast as I could and helped him back to the dike.  All the while, the other Marines were giving me good fire support, as they always did!  Before the day was over, I had treated three Marines.  All of them were medivaced to the Da Nang Hospital.

On 19 Sept 1966, we were overrun by the Vietcong.  Many were engaged in hand to hand combat!  Everywhere you looked there were dead and wounded Marines and Vietcong!  The operation started with around ninety Marines; only 26 of us walked out.  I did a lot of triage that day!  The phrase, “Corpsman Up” was used several times that day!

I could tell you many more stories about my thirteen month tour in Vietnam with the Marines. Going from blue to green (Navy/Marines), changed my life forever!  I answered the call for “Corpsman Up” over 200 times!  At age 19 I witnessed atrocities that no one should witness at any age.  It was a gruesome and horrifying experience.  Emotionally, I was wounded for life.  After my first six months in country, I received my second purple heart. I wondered then what was to be the fate of my next seven months.  Each day I wondered if this would be my last day on earth. (1,448 soldiers were killed on their last day in Vietnam).

Like many combat veterans, I suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; I am considered 100% disabled.  One of the side effects of PTSD is nightmares.  I relive many of my trauma events over and over!  Many of these nightmares begin with, “CORPSMAN UP”!

Semper Frater (Always Brothers)

HMCM Ronald C. Mosbaugh  
USNR Retired