Home About the Aldebaran

Feeding the Fleet

 Pharmacist's Mate 2Cl
 Ship's Log 1941 Ship's Log 1942  Ships Log 1943 Mister Roberts
Photo Scrapbook Navy Hospital Corps Royal Order of Shellbacks  Links
USS Aldebaran


Wherever you find Hospital Corpsman, especially in time of war, the expression "Above and Beyond the Call of Duty" is commonly heard. What is the basis for this? Why have so many members of the Hospital Corps have been sited for performance of duty and for gallantry giving their lives in an attempt to save life? For a complete understanding of the of the Hospital Corps, it is necessary to review the past upon which this corps has been built and the traditions, which it has established.

From the very beginning of the Navy, it was found necessary to make provisions for the care of the sick and injured. An act of Congress in 1799 provided:

"A convenient place shall be set apart for the sick and hurt men, to which they are to be removed, and some of the crew shall be appointed to attend them"

That portion of the ship assigned for the care of the sick was designated at the cockpit. It was usually located in the forward part of the vessel, below the water line, as a protection from shot and shell. The cockpit was also referred to as the "sick berth." In later years, it became known as the "sickbay" because the rounded shape of the recess, or bay, was located in the forward part of the ship between decks.

During the Revolutionary War, there were apparently no enlisted men trained in the care of the sick and injured. A number of the least necessary members of the crew were assigned this duty. Most of the ships of this period, depending on size, carried a surgeon and a surgeon's mate.

In 1814, Navy Regulations referred to the "Loblolly Boy" who was to serve the surgeon and surgeon's mate. It was, among many others, the duty of the Loblolly Boy to go fore and aft the gun and berth decks ringing a small bell to give notice to "those slightly indisposed and with ulcers" to attend the surgeon at the mainmast. Both from old Navy Regulations and from authentic accounts of shipboard life of that day, the Loblolly Boy, before battle, was to provide the cockpit with water, containers for amputated limbs, and braziers of charcoal for heating tar with which to stop hemorrhage. He was also to provide buckets of sand to catch the blood from amputations and wounds and to pour over the blood on the decks so that the surgeon might not slip while working. Gruesome and crude? Yes. But the methods in use today may sound the same way to persons nearly 300 years from now. It must be remembered that the customary treatment for compound fractures of limbs at that time was usually amputation. Boarding of vessels, hand-to-hand combat with cutlasses, gun butts, and clubs, and the use of cannons with round balls that did not explode, but were heated red hot before being fired, evidently resulted in many fractures that were eventually amputated.

The Bureau of Medicine and Surgery was established in 1842. An extract from a letter in this bureau dated May 5, 1843 reads as follows:

"A circular is now under consideration to allow a Surgeon's Steward to all hospitals and vessels, without necessity to sign articles, but to be appointed."

So far as can be determined, the Surgeon's Steward replaced the Loblolly Boy. The pay of the Surgeon's Steward is first listed as being $18.00 per month and one ration.

"A Surgeon's Steward is allowed at all hospitals and Navy yards and on board every vessel having a Medical Officer. As it is important that a respectable class of persons should be employed in this capacity, surgeons will endeavor to select such as have some knowledge of pharmacy and ordinary accounts and are of industrious and temperate habits."

Instructions for Medical Officers, U. S. Navy, 1857.

This was the beginning of the selection of specially qualified personnel. In 1863, an order of the Navy Department allowed male nurses on receiving ships in numbers proportionate to the necessities of the case.

"Surgeon's Stewards to rank next after Master-at-Arms [who was the Leading Petty Officer of the Vessel], and Surgeon's Stewards are never to be discharged without the consent of the officer appointing them or their successor, except by sentence of a court-martial.

U. S. Navy Regulations, 1865.

An order of the Navy Department dated December 8, 1866 reads in part:

"The designation of persons serving as Surgeon's Stewards is changed to that of Apothecary, and they will be appointed for duty in the Medical Department of the Navy, ashore and afloat, in the same manner as Surgeon's Stewards have theretofore been appointed. A candidate for examination and first enlistment as apothecary must be a graduate of some recognized college of pharmacy and must be between 21 and 28 years of age.

U. S. Navy Regulations, 1896.

About the year 1873, the title of male nurse was changed to that of bayman.

"The Surgeon's division shall consist of all junior Medical Officers of the ship, the apothecary, and the bayman. Bayman shall be given a course of instruction on board the receiving ship or at a Naval Hospital before drafted for service on a sea going ship. Bayman (formally called nurses) are personal attendants on the sick.

U. S. Navy Regulations, 1893.


The Hospital Corps came into existent as an organized unit of the Medical Department under the provisions of an act of Congress approved June 17, 1898. This act provided for appointment to the warrant rank of pharmacist and established the following ratings:

  • Hospital Steward (Chief Petty Officer)
  • Hospital Apprentice First Class (Third Class Petty Officer)
  • Hospital Apprentice

Under this act, the Secretary of the Navy appointed 25 senior apothecaries as pharmacists. These original 25 are rightfully referred to as the charter members of the Hospital Corps. The dean of these was Cornelius O' Leary, who was credited at date of appointed with almost 38 years of service as an apothecary.

In 1900, during the Boxer uprising in China, the first member of the Hospital Corps was awarded the Medal of Honor. The citation reads in part:

"Stanley, Robert, Hospital Apprentice, USN in action with the relief expedition of the Allied Forces in China during the battles of 13, 20, 21, and 22 June 1900. Throughout this period and in the presence of the enemy, Stanley distinguished himself by meritorious conduct."

Stanley retired from the Navy on February 1, 1939 with the rank of Chief Pharmacist and died on June 15, 1942. A total of four Medal of Honor were awarded to Hospital Corpsman prior to World War I.

An act of Congress approved on August 22, 1912, provided that pharmacist, after 6 years from date of warrant and after satisfactorily passing prescribed examinations, should be commissioned Chief Pharmacists.

The Hospital Corps was reorganized by an act of Congress approved on August 29, 1916. This act is considered of sufficient importance to quote in part:

"Hereafter the authorized strength of the Hospital Corps of the Navy shall equal three and one-half per centum of the authorized enlisted strength of the Navy and Marine Corps, and shall be in addition, thereto, and as soon as the necessary transfers or appointments may be effected, the Hospital Corps of the United States Navy shall consist of the following rates:

Chief Pharmacist, Pharmacists and enlisted men classified as Chief Pharmacist's Mates; Pharmacist's Mates, First Class; Pharmacist's Mates Second Class; Pharmacist's Mates, Third Class; Hospital Apprentice, First Class, Hospital Apprentice, Second Class; such classifications in enlisted ratings to correspond respectively to the enlisted rating, Seaman branch.

Provided, that enlisted men in other ratings in the Navy and Marine Corps and men of that Corps shall be eligible for transfer to the Hospital Corps and men of that Corps to other rating in the Navy and Marine Corps. The Secretary of the Navy is hereby empowered to limit and fix the numbers in the various ratings, and emoluents of enlisted men of the Hospital Corps shall be the same as are now, or may hereafter, be allowed for respective corresponding ratings. Hospital and ambulance service, with such commands and at such places as may be prescribed by the Secretary of the Navy, shall be performed by members of said Corps, and the Corps shall be a constituent part of the Medical Department of the Navy."


During World War I, 10 of the 13 Chief Pharmacists were promoted to Lieutenant in the Medical Corps of the Navy. During the war, there were 94 temporary commissioned and warrant officers and 16,000 enlisted men in the Hospital Corps.

During World War I, the reputation of the Hospital Corps for performance of duty, especially in the field with the Marine Corps, was greatly enhanced. Both the United States and France cited many of the members for valor and performance of duty under fire. Fifteen corpsman were killed in action, 2 died of wounds, and 146 were wounded or gassed. There were 460 major awards and citations, including 2 Congressional Medals of Honor, 55 navy Crosses, 31 Distinguished Service Medals, 2 U. S. Army Distinguished Service Medals, and 27 Letters of Commendation.

In July 1922, all members of the corps holding temporary commissions of warrants were reverted to their respective permanent ranks or ratings.

From the period of World War I to World War II, the Hospital Corps became on of the outstanding corps of the military services. More schools were provided, qualifications for advancement in ratings were raised, and all members of the corps demonstrated a high degree of technical skill and knowledge.


The Honorable James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy during World War II, and later the first Secretary of Defense, paid honor to the Hospital Corps of the United States Navy for its singular attainments during that conflict.

Because his words ring so true today and tell so well the role of the corpsman not only in that conflict and the conflicts that have followed, but also in times of peace, his Commendation is repeated from the 1953 edition of the Handbook of the Hospital Corps. Insofar as can be determined, this is the first time in military history that a single corps has been commended by the Secretary of the Navy.

"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.

Every individual, who was thus saved from death, owes an everlasting debt to the Navy's Hospital Corps. The Navy is indebted to the corps. The entire nation is its debtor for thousands of citizens are living normal, constructive, happy and productive lives who, but for the skill and toil of the Hospital Corps, might be dead or disheartened by crippling invalidism. So, to the 200,000 men and women of the Hospital Corps, I say on behalf of the United States Navy:


Without your service, the Navy's Medical Corps could not have achieved the life-saving record and the mind-saving record its Physicians and Surgeons and Psychiatrists achieved. That others might live, your fellow corpsman have given their lives; 889 of them were killed or mortally wounded. Others died as heroically form diseases they were trying to combat. In all, the Corps' casualty list contains 1,724 names, and honor roll of special distinction because none among them bore arms.

The hospital corpsman saved lives on all the beaches that the Marines stormed. Corpsman were at the forefront of every invasion, in all the actions at sea, on all carrier decks. You were on your own in submarines and the smaller ships of the fleet, performing emergency surgery at times when you had to take the fearsome responsibility of trying to save a life by heroic means or see the patient die. Your presence at every post of danger gave immeasurable confidence to your comrades under arms. Their bravery was fortified by the knowledge that the corpsman, the Sailors of solace, were literally at their sides with the skill and means to staunch wounds, ally pain and to carry them back, if need be, to safe shelter and the ministrations of the finest medical talent in the world.

You corpsman performed fox-hole surgery while shell fragments clipped your clothing, shattered the plasma bottles from which you poured new life into the wounded, and sniper's bullets were aimed at the brassards on your arms. On Iwo Jima, for example, the percentage of casualties among your corps was greater the proportion of losses among the Marines. Two of your colleagues who gave their lives in that historic battle were posthumously cited for the Medal of Honor. One of the citations reads: "By his great personal valor in saving others at the sacrifice of his own life (he) inspired his companions, although terrifically outnumbered, to launch a fiercely determined attack and repulse the enemy force." All that he had in his hands were the tools of mercy, yet he won a memorable victory at the cost of his life.

No wonder men and women are proud to wear the emblem of the Hospital Corps! It is a badge of mercy and valor, a token of unselfish service in the highest calling - the saving of life in the service of your country.

Your corps' men and women toiled, often as dangerously, never less vitally, in areas remote from battle: In hospitals, on hospital ships, in airplanes, in laboratories and pharmacies and dispensaries. They helped, and are helping (for the task is far from over) in the salvage of men's broken bodies and minds that is the grim product and perennial aftermath of war. Some of you contributed skills in Dental Technology, unfamiliar diseases, other taught natives of distant islands the benefits of modern hygiene even to midwifery and everyday sanitation.

Scores of corpsman, made prisoners of war, used their skill and strength to retain life and hope in their fellow captives through long years of imprisonment and deprivation.

Whatever their duty, whenever they were, the men and women of the Hospital Corps served the Navy and served humanity, with exemplary courage, sagacity and effort. The performance of their duties has been "in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service." That, to any man or woman, is the highest of praise. The corps has earned it and continues to earn it.

For, as I said, the task is not yet completed. Thousands of war's casualties will long need the ministrations of physicians, nurses, and the Hospital Corps before they can return to normal, peacetime pursuits. Hundreds may have to be cared for as long as they live; that these unfortunates are so few is in large measure due to the prompt, skillful aid accorded our wounded and stricken, by your corps.

Illness and accident will add to these numbers, of course. There will always be the sick and injured, and there will the need for trained personnel to help restore them. The Navy's best laboratories are forever engaging in research to combat disease, to speed the healing of torn flesh and broken bones, to devise new aids for the maimed to lead a normal life. And so I am impelled to address this message, not only to the men and women of the corps who have completed their service to the Navy, but those who are presently in the Corps, and, also, to those who are joining - or rejoining - in that inspiring career.

It is no easy profession, even in peacetime. There is danger in the test tubes and culture racks as menacing as in the guns of an unvanquished enemy. The Hospital Corps is never at peace. It is forever on the firing line in the ceaseless war against disease and premature death. That is why the corps' emblem is truly "the red badge of courage," a designation to all the world that the person who wears it has been self-dedicated to the service of humanity.

Customarily the "WELL DONE" signal is reserved for the closing phrase of a message of congratulations, but I placed it in the forefront where, in this instance, it most fittingly belongs. I repeat it, here, with the postscript that in earning its "WELL DONE" the Hospital Corps is assured no other unit in the Navy did better in the degree of essential duty
inspiringly performed."


During World War II, a total of 15 Navy enlisted men were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor; of this number, several were Hospital Corpsman. Members of the Hospital Corps received 820 major awards and citations (an honor of unique distinction since none of them bore arms). Other personal medals - the Navy Cross, the Silver Star, the Bronze Star - were awarded to Hospital Corpsman by the tens and hundreds, almost too numerous to count. On February 22, 1945, on the summit of Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima, along with six marines, Pharmacist Mate John Bradley proudly participated in the raising of our flag; a scene reproduced thousands of times. The Marine Corps memorial symbolizes this event

Women were first brought into the Hospital Corps during World War II. On January 12, 1944, the first Hospital Corps School for Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) was commissioned at the U. S. Naval Hospital, National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, Maryland. The first class consisted of 230 enlisted women.

Public Law 625 of the Eightieth Congress, approved on June 12, 1948, made the WAVES an integral part of the Regular Navy.

On April 2, 1948, the nomenclature of the Hospital Corps ratings were changed to read:

  • Hospital Recruit/E1
  • Hospital Apprentice/E2
  • Hospitalman/E3
  • Hospital Corpsman Third Class/E4
  • Hospital Corpsman Second Class/E5
  • Hospital Corpsman First Class/E6
  • Chief Hospital Corpsman/E7
  • Warrant Officer and Commissioned Warrant Officer, Hospital Corps.

In June 1956, the Warrant and Commissioned Warrant Officer, Hospital Corps were redesignated as Medical Service Warrant and Chief Medical Service Warrant.

Also in 1948, those Hospital Corpsman classified as Dental Technicians were change to that rating. The rating structure outlines the dental rating as follows:

  • Dental Recruit/E1
  • Dental Apprentice/E2
  • Dentalman/E3
  • Dental Technician Third Class/E4
  • Dental Technician Second Class/E5
  • Dental Technician First Class/E6
  • Chief Dental Technician/E7

Medical Service Warrant, Chief Medical Service Warrant and Medical Service Corps officers, so qualified and assigned. Performed administrative and technical duties in Dental activities. At the same time, the rating insignia of the Hospital Corps was changed from the Red Cross so long familiar, to the caduceus. Dental Technicians have the "D" superimposed over the caduceus.


With the advent of the Korean conflict, the Hospital Corps once again responded to the call of duty. Members of the corps, individually and collectively, added a brilliant chapter to the history of the corps. During the Inchon-Seoul operation, for example, medical units attached to the 1st Marine Division cared for 2,844 casualties during the period of September 15 to October 7, 1950. Hospital Corpsman were at the forefront of all the fighting, saving lives on the beaches as the Marines stormed in. They performed on-the-spot emergency and first aid treatment, as Secretary Forrestal described it, "while shell fragments ripped clothing from their bodies and shattered plasma bottles in their hands." Indeed the percentage of casualties among Medical Department personnel in Korea, as in World War II, was greater than that of the Marines they supported.

These highly trained technicians played a vital and demanding role in the care and treatment of those evacuated to the hospital ships of the U. S. Navy serving in Korean waters. These ships handled some 20,000 battle causalities, 30,000 non-battle causalities, and around 80,000 outpatients. To narrate the individual exploits of the many whom were cited for valor, resourcefulness, and courage would require a separate volume.

It is a great tribute to the corps that of the seven Congressional Medal of Honor conferred upon Navy personnel during the Korean conflict, five were bestowed upon Hospital Corpsman.

The years that have followed Korea have also proved to be eventful. For example, in 1954, approximately 190,000 Vietnam refugees were transported from North Vietnam to South Vietnam on U. S. Navy ships. The corpsman assigned to this operation had ample opportunity to demonstrate the ability and initiative that has always characterized them. In 1957, Hospital Corpsman served in Mexico during the hurricane and floods in Tampico. In 1961, in Texas and Louisiana, they aided victims of Hurricane Carla.

Lest the impression be left that corpsman distinguish themselves only in times of war and disaster, it should be added that their role in "quite" times is equally as illustrious. They serve around the world in Navy hospitals, aboard ships and submarines, and with the Marine Corps units of all Fleet Marine Forces. Often on duty independent of a Medical Officer, they bear the full responsibility for medical care of their shipmates, maintaining the health of the Navy, rendering first aid, and caring for the sick with a competence that has earned them the respect of all. Their methods of medical management are constantly reviewed and revised to reflect the latest technologies in treatment. In addition, since 1958, they have received special and intensive instruction in the management of the mass casualties that might follow in the wake of a chemical, biological, or radiological (CBR) warfare attack. Also, Hospital Corpsman often have had the opportunities to serve in the latest scientific projects. For example, Thomas R. Thorne, HM3, participated in Project Mercy. For his role in the biomedical support of the free world's first manned space flight, he received in June, 1961, a Letter of Appreciation from the Director of Bioastronautics.


With the escalation of the Vietnam conflict between 1963 and 1975, Hospital Corpsman were called to serve in Southeast Asia. They served in Marine Corps and Navy Air/Ground Forces, Naval Support Activity Hospitals (Saigon and Da Nang), Hospital Ships (USS Repose and USS Sanctuary), Riverine Warfare ("Brown Water Navy"), and Navy Ships on the "Gun Line" off the coast of South Vietnam and "Yankee Station" off the coast of North Vietnam. They served in Cambodia and supported troops from places like the Marine Corps Air Station ("Rose Garden") in Thailand. Like their predecessors, they performed emergency treatment in all kinds of combat conditions. They were assigned to small medical terms that provided care and health advice to Vietnamese civilians. Some were assigned as medical advisors to Vietnamese military units, which required that they live in small, poorly defended villages. Hospital Corpsman truly felt the brunt of the Vietnam conflict. 620 were killed or mortally wounded and another 3,353 were wounded in action. Awards for gallantry and intrepidity in action included 3 Congressional Medals of Honor, 29 Navy Crosses, 127 Silver Stars, 2 Legions of Merit, 290 Bronze Stars, and 4,563 Purple Hearts.


Since the fall of Saigon in April 1975, Hospital Corpsman continue to serve in the many "hot spots" around the world. Fifteen Hospital Corpsman were killed in the line of duty when the Marine Barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, was bombed and destroyed by terrorists. Hospital Corpsman were present at sea and ashore when the United States took military action in Grenada.

Today's Hospital Corpsman perform as assistants in the prevention and treatment of disease and injury. They assist with physical examinations, provide patient care, and administer medicinals. They perform general laboratory, pharmacy, and other patient support services. They assist in the administrative, supply, and accounting procedures within medical departments ashore, afloat, and with the Marine Corps. They instruct medical and non-medical personnel in first aid, self-aid, personal hygiene, and medical records maintenance. They assist in the maintenance of environmental health standards, and they are prepared to assist in the prevention and treatment of CBR casualties and in the transportation of the sick and injured. Senior Hospital Corpsman perform technical planning and management functions in support of medical readiness and quality health care delivery. In addition to their general assignments, Hospital Corpsman trained as technicians perform specialized functions within the operational forces, clinical specialties, and administrative department, and they may be assigned duties independent of a Medical Officer.

These complex duties require that each Hospital Corpsman have broad-based training and a versatility neither demanded nor expected of other enlisted rating in the Navy.

Whenever you find the Navy, wherever you find the Marine Corps, there you will find the Navy Hospital Corpsman. In times of peace, he or she toils unceasingly, day and night, providing quality care to numerous beneficiaries. In times of war, he is on the beaches with the Marines, employed in amphibious operations, in transportation of wounded by air, on the battlefield, and on all types of ships, submarines, aircraft carriers, and landing craft. In short, wherever medical services may be required, the Hospital Corpsman is there, not only willing but also prepared to serve his or her country and his fellow man above and beyond the call of duty.

NAVEDTRA 10669 - C (1989)