By Mike Case
From its earliest days, the U.S. Navy planned for the care of the injured and sick.
In 1799, an act of Congress stipulated: “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.” However, it was not until June 17, 1898, that the United States Navy Hospital Corps was formally established as a unit in the Medical Department of the Navy.
Today, members of the Navy Hospital Corps serve as medical professionals on submarines, vessels and out in the field alongside sailors and Marines. Here are seven facts about members of the Navy Hospital Corps you need to know (we think fact #6 will blow your mind!):
1. Today, members of the Navy Hospital Corps form the largest rate in the Navy (“rate” in this instance is the term the Navy uses to describe a service member’s job or specialization).
As of 2015, there were more than 25,480 active duty and Reserve Navy Hospital Corps personnel.
2. In 1898, when the Navy Hospital Corps was founded, three ratings were created for the unit: hospital steward, hospital apprentice first class and hospital apprentice.
This rating system has been updated several times throughout the past century to the modern corpsmen nomenclature we know today.
3. Navy Hospital Corps service members serve as combat medics for the Marines.
After serving with a Marine unit, Navy Hospital Corps service members can test and earn a special pin and the designation of Fleet Marine Force, as well as the honor to call themselves a Marine. Fun fact: these elite service members are sometimes called “devil docs.”
4. When Navy Hospital Corps was founded 1898, 25 senior apothecaries were appointed by the Navy to serve as head pharmacists.
These 25 men are referred to as the “charter members” of the Hospital Corps.
5. The Hospital Corps is the most decorated rating in the Navy and one of the most decorated in the military.
Members of the Navy Hospital Corps have earned 22 Medals of Honor, 179 Navy Crosses, 959 Silver Stars and more than 1,600 Bronze Stars. 20 ships have been named in honor of Navy Hospital Corps personnel.
6. On September 11, 1942, Pharmacist Mate 1st Class Wheeler Lipes performed an appendectomy on a fellow sailor while at sea aboard the submarine USS Seadragon.
He had little training on the procedure and limited access to proper medical equipment. Yet the operation was successful. The event was later dramatized in the Cary Grant movie, “Destination Tokyo.”
7. On July 12, 1948, Ruth Flora became the first woman to enlist as a Navy Hospital Corps member.
Today, women serve in every rate, from seaman to admiral, and in every job from naval aviator to deep-sea diver.
-This story originally appeared on USO.org in 2019. It has been edited in 2021.
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