MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
Retired and active-duty hospital corpsmen in the American Association of Navy Hospital Corpsmen organization visited Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune for an annual reunion, recently.
The organization spent time aboard the base and the surrounding area including Camp Johnson, where many of the association’s members attended Field Medical Training Battalion, formerly known as Field Medical Service Support; the Beirut Memorial Wall, future home of the Corpsmen Memorial at the Lejeune Memorial Gardens; and Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune.
The association also held a memorial service for their fallen brothers and sisters who served with them long ago, as well today’s corpsmen who have given the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Retired Petty Officer 1st Class Russell Henderson, a senior board member with the association, said the association stands for the general care and welfare of fellow corpsmen and Navy personnel.
Former president of the association, retired Master Chief Arthur Boyle, said he believes the association enforces the preservation of hospital corpsmen’s history.
“(It’s also about) us being the only enlisted corps, as well as the most decorated,” said Boyle. “It’s about the fellowship we gained being in combat with each other and other units we served with. It’s unique.”
Retired Master Chief Don Mason, another member with the association and former president, said holding the reunions in strategic locations around the country helps the association maintain its camaraderie and its heritage.
“As we have (reunions) around military installations, it gives us a better opportunity to recruit and let other corpsmen at these installations know what we’re all about,” said Mason.
Boyle added that during the association’s many visits, they spread the word and try to instill something they have all learned many years ago – that being a corpsman is a unique opportunity.
Henderson added that they learn just as much knowledge from the new generation of sailors and corpsmen as the young service members learn from them.
Ned Johnson, the first president since the creation of the association in 1993, said as a lifelong member, he tries to attend the reunions every year.
“Usually, they are held at either Navy or Marine Corps installations,” said Johnson. “This year, we decided on Camp Lejeune, and last year we were at Great Lakes Naval Training Center. Next year we’re scheduled to go to San Antonio. They’re combining all of the medical training in all of the branches and it will be held at Fort Sam Houston, there.”
Johnson added that next year, the association will attend the first hospital corpsmen training sessions at Fort Sam Houston next year.
“There are a number of things that have evolved over the years,” said Johnson. “As any new organization, we started out relatively modest membership which has grown throughout years. Before, it was only for hospital corpsmen, now it’s for any medic in the military. We’re now even inciting active-duty personnel and it’s a great resource.”
Johnson said that with sailors serving as military medics across several different eras, there is a vast pool of information they call can utilize.
“(There are) Medal of Honor recipients, Silver Star recipients, some of which have passed away already,” said Johnson. “It’s a pretty impressive group of guys.”
This year, the association reunion helped two long-time shipmates reunite with one another since serving in Vietnam.
“(Retired Master Chief) Gary (Thornhill) and I have known each other since 1963,” said Ron Marx, a former corpsman, who has been an active member of the association for 15 years. “We went to basic (training) together as corpsmen at Marine Corps Air Station El Toro. Then we both volunteered to join the Fleet Marine Force with the Marine Corps. The next thing we knew we were sitting Okinawa, Japan, with the 3rd Marine Division.”
Marx and Thornhill, who has been a member of the association for about four months, served with the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, on their first deployment. The two rotated back to the states and then deployed again at the same time, but this time with, 2nd Bn., 9th Marines.
After their successful tours of duty with 2nd Bn., 9th Marines in 1965, it was the last time they saw each other until the night of the association’s banquet at the Paradise Point Officers’ Club aboard the base, Sept. 24.
“This association is great because it brings together corpsmen from all the eras,” said Thornhill. “We’re trying to get some more of the younger guys to join now. One of the things we picked up serving in the FMF, was the heritage, tradition, valor, honor and just the prestige of being a corpsman. It’s something very special for us and we try and instill that in today’s corpsmen.”
Thornhill added that during their tour around MCB Camp Lejeune and Camp Johnson recently, members of the association concluded corpsmen are just as tough as they were in previous years.
“That pride is still there,” said Thornhill. “My chest must’ve increased at least three inches in size. These guys are hardcore and hopefully a lot of them join the association to keep it going.”
Active-duty corpsmen wanting to join the association can do so at www.aaonhc.org at no cost. The only people that pay fees in the association are the retired members – a nominal fee of $20 per month.