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, corpsmen serve as medical professionals on submarines, vessels and out in the field alongside sailors and marines. To celebrate their anniversary, here are seven facts about Navy Corpsmen you need to know (we think fact #6 will blow your mind!):
1. Today, hospital corpsmen form the largest rate in the Navy (“rate” is the term the Navy uses for “rank”).
As of 2015, there were more than 25,480 active duty and reserve Navy hospital corpsmen.
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This rating system was updated in 1916 to the now-outdated “hospital mate” ranks and again in 1948 to the modern corpsmen nomenclature we know today.
3. Navy Corpsmen serve as combat medics for the Marines.
After serving with a Marine unit, corpsmen 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 corpsmen 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.
5. The Hospital Corps is the most decorated rating in the Navy and one of the most decorated in the military.
Navy corpsmen 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 corpsmen.
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 be a hospital corpsman.
Today, women serve in every rate from seaman to admiral and in every job from naval aviator to deep-sea diver.
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