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Re-living the legacy: 1st Medical Battalion

1 Sep 2011 | Cpl. Khoa Pelczar

Never leave a Marine behind has always been one of the hallmarks of the Marine Corps. Whether in combat or in
garrison, corpsmen have always been there to support Marines carrying on that tradition.
The 1st Medical Battalion, Combat Logistics Regiment 15, 1st Marine Logistics Group, has been around for more than 70 years, training corpsmen and providing support to the Corps. Its mission is to provide health service support to the operating units of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force and to save every life.
Activated on Sept. 6, 1940, at Marine Corps Base Headquarters, Quantico, Va., 1st Medical Battalion has supported the Marine Corps in numerous battles throughout history. Their lineage dates back to some of the earliest operations in World War II and continues through the current Global War on Terror.
The battalion played a vital role in supporting Marines on combat operations, as well as humanitarian assistance operations. One of the battalion’s many accomplishments was their involvement in the Vietnam War from 1966-1971.
Jan K. Herman, author of the book ‘Navy medicine in Vietnam: Passage to Freedom to the Fall of Saigon,’ shows that the medical field was an important part of operations in Vietnam. They built the main hospital in Saigon to provide medical care for the local nationals.
Navy Capt. Russ Fisichella, commanding officer for Saigon’s main hospital then, told Herman during an interview after the war, “We were professionals doing a professional job, and everybody had a specific job to do. We were all expected to be ambassadors. At the time I was there, it wasn’t an American war. We were advisors. It became an American war after that.”
Fisichella left Vietnam in March 1965, the same time as the arrival of the Marine Corps medical battalions.
According to Herman’s book, corpsmen with the 1st and 3rd Medical battalions were called upon to join the troops on the battlefield. They provided medical support to the Marines as members of air wings, reconnaissance teams, and artillery fire bases on the frontlines, as well as accompanied Navy SEAL teams on their special operations.
Herman writes that a Vietnamera corpsman was very special to the Marines he served. The corpsman had the skills to save their lives. If they were hit, it was his job to take care of them.
As important as military training was during basic training, Herman explains how the Field Medical Service School concentrated mainly on training corpsmen to keep Marines alive in combat.
“I remember sitting up in the bleachers getting ready to graduate and one instructor said, ‘Look, some of you won’t be coming back,’” Then – Petty Officer 3rd Class James Maddox, corpsman, recalled during an interview with
Herman. “I know that kind of put a lump in my throat. But it’s just like anybody going out driving his car on the freeway and facing the odds of being killed in a wreck. You think ‘Not me!’”
Corpsmen made their greatest contributions in supporting troops not only by providing basic medical care to them, but by being the first responders to diseases and traumatic injuries on battlefields. They had to be physically and mentally prepared to remain cool under fire and rush out to treat their Marines every time they heard the call ‘corpsman up!’
Throughout America’s involvement in Vietnam, approximately 5,000 hospital corpsmen and 300 dental technicians served with the troops in-theater, Herman wrote. More than 4,500 were awarded Purple Hearts, 290 received the Bronze Star, 127 earned the Silver Star, 29 were presented the Navy Cross, and four earned the Medal of Honor.
The Vietnam Wall in Washington D.C., memorializes the names of 683 hospital corpsmen and two dental technicians who gave the ultimate sacrifice in that war.
As stated on their official webpage under I MEF’s site, www.imef.usmc.mil, the battalion battle streamers include awards such as the Presidential Unit Citation streamer with one Silver Star and two Bronze Stars, a Joint Meritorious Unit Award streamer, a Navy Unit Commendation streamer with one Bronze Star, a Meritorious
Unit Commendation streamer with two Bronze Stars, an American Defense Service streamer with one Bronze Star, an Asiatic-Pacific Campaign streamer with one Silver Star and one Bronze Star, a World War II Victory streamer, a Navy Occupation Service streamer with ‘Asia,’ a China Service streamer, a National Defense Service streamer with two Bronze Stars, a Korean Service streamer with two Silver Stars, a Southwest Asia Service streamer with two Bronze Stars, a Korean Presidential Unit Citation streamer, a Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm streamer and a Vietnam Meritorious Unit Citation Civil Actions streamer.
Corpsmen continue to support Marines in their operations today. While the Global War on Terror remains active, 1st Medical Battalion continues preparing doctors, nurses and corpsmen to accompany the Marines to remote locations and engage in numerous operations.
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