By Master Chief Hospital Corpsman (SW/AW) Robert Coddington, Navy Medicine Operational Training Center Command Master Chief
Those words, spoken the day after an attack on American soil 71 years ago, which claimed the lives of more than 2,400 Americans and wounded 1,100 more, sank four U.S. Navy battleships and damaged four more, sank three cruisers, three destroyers, one minelayer and damaged 188 aircraft, truly do register as a date that will stand the test of time.
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in the early morning hours of Dec. 7, 1941, forever changed the face of the U.S. Military, propelled our great nation into a global conflict that redefined the manner in which Sailors, Soldiers, Airmen and Marines engage in armed conflict over the course of several generations.
As a Hospital Corpsman, I reflect on that day and think to those wearing the caduceus while serving aboard ships. Those serving in hospitals that rapidly filled to capacity. Those working in makeshift triage areas hastily erected by those left standing after the surprise attack. I know those corpsmen reacted in the manner our corpsmen do today – with an energy and willingness to put others’ lives ahead of their own in defense of the country whose ideals they have sworn to uphold.
Those corpsmen faced a daunting task as explosions rocked their vessels. They struggled to keep the ship afloat and provided lifesaving care for patients, some of whom were gravely wounded. These corpsmen were overwhelmed, but I also don’t doubt they continued to do the job for which they had been trained – save the lives of their shipmates.
Today, 71 years later, the role of the corpsman has continued to evolve, as our shipmates are actively engaged in combat operations in countries far from home, working alongside Army and Air Force counterparts in an environment markedly different yet surprisingly similar to what the frontrunners of the most decorated Corps in the U.S. Navy faced generations ago.
They are fighting a war in which surprise attacks abound; they are fighting against an enemy who willingly die to accomplish their mission; and yet they continue the proud tradition the Hospital Corpsman forged over many years of conflict and peace – serving their fellow warriors and shipmates joined in service to their country.
I reflect on what these individuals must have been like these 71 years ago – I doubt they were different from you or me. They were from all parts of the United States – farms in Iowa, mines in West Virginia, apartments in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles. They probably followed some of the same baseball and football teams we still watch today, joked and poked fun at each other during evening chow on mess decks that looked strikingly similar to those we still eat on today.
And like the Sailors I know today, they would do their jobs so their shipmates could continue to do theirs.
Think of these Sailors Dec. 7. Remember their sacrifice, their honor, courage, and commitment.
And then look at the shipmates by your side. They are the same young men and women who proudly wear the uniform of the U.S. Navy and the caduceus of the Hospital Corps today and carry on the greatest of our traditions from generations past.
(Master Chief Hospital Corpsman (SW/AW) Robert Coddington is a nearly 25-year Corpsman currently working as the Navy Medicine Operational Training Center Command Master Chief).