Marines Run Toward Gun Fire, Not Away From It
Thundering Third - Part 4 - Marines Destroy Ambushers

"Corpsman, Up!"

Another one via Seamus, this time about the Navy Hospital Corpsmen that are the medics the Marines depend on - day in and day out.

Navy corpsmen to the rescue when injured Marines need aid By Rick Rogers UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER July 29, 2004

FALLUJAH, Iraq – Almost every day, the cry "corpsman up!" rings across a battlefield somewhere in Iraq, sending a crouching figure with a medical bag dashing – often into enemy gunfire – to treat a wounded Marine.

There have been many such adrenaline-pumping sprints since 25,000 Marines and sailors arrived this year, including 19,000 from San Diego County. More than 100 Marines have been killed in action and 1,137 wounded.

But the death toll could have been much higher, as the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment Marines from Camp Pendleton well knows.

While 10 Marines have died in and around Fallujah alone since March, corpsmen – who are Navy sailors – have saved the lives of 30 to 40 troops, according to commanders and the medical staff at Camp Baharia, where the battalion is based for its seven-month tour of duty.

"They have saved a number of my boys," said 31-year-old Albuquerque native Capt. D.A. Zembiec, a company commander whose Marines saw fierce fighting in Fallujah in spring and random fighting since. "The Marines know that if they are wounded, a corpsman will ignore the firefight and just patch them up."

Marines venerate their devoted corpsmen.

"A good corpsman knows how to calm the situation so that the Marine being treated and those around him don't freak out," said Golf Company's Sgt. David Jones, 27, of Washington, D.C. "He knows medicine, but he also knows his Marines and how to keep them from panicking."

Corpsmen are an anomaly on the battlefield. They carry a 9-mm pistol to protect themselves and their patients, but they are considered noncombatants. Yet their status as healers has done little to protect them.

Of the estimated 50 corpsmen in the battalion, seven have been wounded, two of them seriously. (Marines don't disclose numbers, but an average-sized battalion is about 900 troops.)

This month a corpsman riding in a convoy nearly lost his arm to a roadside bomb. His military career might be over, and he might never regain the full use of his limb.

Several have had close calls.

A mortar hit at the feet of one corpsman and failed to explode. Another had a dud hand grenade bounce off his vehicle while he was loading wounded troops. Another was saved when shrapnel from a mortar destroyed his medical bag but spared him.

In another instance, a mortar round landed in the foxhole a corpsman had just left.

"Almost every single line corpsman has a story like that," said Petty Officer 1st Class William Janic, a medical section chief at the aid station at Camp Baharia.

"They've done some awesome things," said Janic, of West Virginia.

Hospitalman Everett Watt, 25, was with Echo Company Marines when they entered Fallujah in April and engaged in street-to-street fighting.

In the city, Watt and other corpsmen routinely braved machine gun and rocket-propelled grenade fire to attend to wounded Marines.

Despite the extreme dangers, Watt said corpsmen cannot hesitate.

"You hear 'corpsman up!' and all you want to know is where they need help," said Watt, from the Bronx. "It's an instinct thing. When I am running to a Marine, I never think about anything except getting there. You don't think about what you did until later. And then you say, 'What the hell did I just do?' It can get crazy."

"You just hope (the injury) isn't as bad as it always is," Watt added quietly.

He names the Marines he's treated and saved. There is a special place in his soul for the three he couldn't, and when he tries to talk about it, he grows silent in mid-sentence.

"There are at least six Marines who are alive because of him," said Lt. Ben Wagner, 27, an Echo platoon leader who grew up in Chula Vista. "He'll never tell you that."

Fear is something that every corpsman has to master to do his job.

"I am always scared, there is no denying that," said Petty Officer 3rd Class Reginald Demapelis, 31, a senior corpsman for Golf Company who said his corpsmen have saved about seven Marines.

"But to be good a corpsman, you have to overcome your fear and concentrate on your job," said Demapelis, who lives in Chula Vista. He immigrated to the United States from Manila, Philippines, in 1992 and was an Army medic before joining the Navy less than two years ago.

"Always concentrate on the welfare of all the people out there," he said. "It's our job to run out there when the mortars are still dropping and the bullets are still flying. You cannot hesitate."

Corpsmen said the death of a Marine is a crushing blow from which they can never truly recover. But they know they must put it behind them.