AL TAQADDUM, Iraq -- After President William McKinley dotted the i’s June 17, 1898, the U.S. Navy’s Hospital Corps was established. One hundred and nine years later, sailors here carried out a ceremony to celebrate the birthday of one of the most decorated organizations in the military.
Throughout the years, 22 hospital corpsmen have received the Medal of Honor. This is the most of any single U.S. Navy group, representing the dedication of the lifesaving sailors serving the Navy and Marine Corps. But, one of Taqaddum’s corpsmen explained how the birthday symbolizes much more.
“It represents the core values: honor, courage and commitment,” said Seaman Taalib-Din K. Grier of Battalion Aid Station for Headquarters, Service and Communications Companies, 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward). “The honor is having the title of hospital corpsman. The courage is having the ability to go anywhere necessary to save a life. Commitment is to do it any time, any place.”
The long-term relationship between Navy corpsmen and Marines began even before the hospital corps became an official organization. Grier, a Winston-Salem, N.C., native, said the lasting bond between Marines and corpsmen is “just proof to show how committed we are to be with Marines.”
After such a long history, this relationship can be compared to that which may be felt for family, said Chief Petty Officer John R. Lafferty, an independent duty corpsman with Al Taqaddum Surgical Company, 2nd Maintenance Battalion, 2nd MLG (Fwd.), and an Amarillo, Texas, native.
“The very first corpsman to receive the Medal of Honor was during the same campaign as Dan Daly,” said Lafferty, referring to Robert Stanley, who served alongside the prominent two-time Medal of Honor Marine during the Boxer Rebellion in China. “There’s a bond, almost a brotherhood, between the corpsmen and Marines.”
Before those days as hospital corpsmen, these sailors were referred to as “loblolly boys,” nurses and then baymen. Though their official title hasn’t changed since it was introduced in 1898, corpsmen have continued to evolve.
“As technology advances, so do we,” said Chief Petty Officer Keith A. Becker, an independent duty corpsman and the lead chief petty officer for surgical section, Al Taqaddum Surgical Company, 2nd Maintenance Battalion, 2nd MLG (Fwd.). “We can save more lives now than we ever could.”
During the celebration, numerous sailors and Marines stood over a podium to honor past corpsmen and explain the significance of the Hospital Corps. Sailors paid respects as the U.S. flag was passed and they enjoyed in a cake cutting ceremony.
Becker, a Detroit native, said the celebration was “one of the more spectacular ceremonies” he’s seen and he looks forward to the many birthdays to come.
“It’s just the beginning. This relationship is going to continue as long as the Marine Corps and Navy exist,” he said. “Our pride and heritage intermingle.”