Corpsmen, March 1945

Originally posted December 18, 2013.

By the time they were pulled off the line on March 16, 1945, First Battalion’s medical staff had experienced nearly a solid month of some of the worst combat conditions in American history. Between them, they had treated several hundred casualties. Twelve had been wounded themselves; five corpsmen lost their lives while attempting to rescue other wounded Marines. Nearly all would be decorated for bravery. At the end of the battle, the twenty-two survivors gathered in a ravine—possibly their aid station in the Quarry—for a photograph.

This copy is provided courtesy of Dr. Richards Lyon, who also helped with the identifications.

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There are two officers and twenty enlisted in this photograph.

Surgeons

The battalion surgeons were medical school graduates who had joined the Navy; both were commissioned officers.

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Lieutenant Richard C. Porter was the battalion head surgeon. Also known as “Big Dick” due to his stature (he was 6’5” and muscular), “Doc Porter” had been with the battalion since 1943 and had been present for every day of every campaign—he had just turned 29 six weeks before the photo was taken. His standing rule for his corpsmen was to exercise caution: “Don’t immediately respond to a call. Think and act. Otherwise, the [enemy] marksman will get you, too.” As a result, casualties among Porter’s corpsmen were some of the lowest in the entire battle. Awarded the Legion of Merit for his service, Porter was transferred out of the battalion following the battle, having earned a secure, stateside berth.

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Porter’s duties were assumed by the assistant surgeon, Richards Lyon (known by inevitable comparison as “Little Dick.”) Lyon, a pre-med graduate of UC Berkeley and medical student at Stanford, was a surgical intern in Boston when called up to the Navy. He volunteered to fast-track to the Pacific, and was with the battalion for about three weeks before shipping out for Iwo Jima. His first night in combat was spent comforting a crying teenaged Marine; for the rest, “my duties were just those of admiring the actions of our seasoned corpsmen. I must have done something, for sure, but can’t remember anything heroic, besides stopping bleeding and applying the wonderful new plywood leg splints.” Although he claimed “any Boy Scout” would have been as effective in helping with First Aid, Doc Lyon came up with a unique method for treating combat fatigue cases. Becoming concerned about “the rapid Jeep evacuation, placing battle fatigue [cases] on hospital ships, to live that down the rest of their lives. I’ve always been more of a ‘long-haul’ doc, and this seemed wrong. One day, most of one platoon – twelve – came in helpless and crying. I sedated them heavily with barbitals, awakened them 12 hours later, and sent them happily back to their buddies. I began laying plans to steal sodium pentathol from the main surgical center for use in our next invasion. Thanks in part to Lyon’s procedures, First Battalion’s combat fatigue cases remained comparatively low.

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At the surgeon’s right hand was the Chief Pharmacist’s Mate, Charles Riley Cochrane. Cochrane’s father was a dentist, and Charles enlisted in the Navy in 1941 at the age of twenty. Introduced to combat during the invasion of Namur, Pharmacist’s Mate First Class Cochrane was compelled to step up to the position of senior corpsman on Saipan, when the previous chief, Winston Blevins, was wounded. He ran the enlisted medical section throughout the Marianas campaign and earned his own promotion to chief in the fall of 1944. Though he treated countless wounds, Cochrane himself escaped injury in all his months overseas.

Pharmacist’s Mates, First Class

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Pre-war medical professional Martin Middlewood at Camp Maui and on Iwo Jima.

Although he’d only recently joined the battalion, Pharmacist’s Mate First Class Martin Middlewood was the next most experienced doctor in the section; prior to the war, he’d been an attendant at the State Hospital in Pueblo, Colorado, alongside his wife Harriet. Just as Lyon took over from Porter in 1945, Middlewood took over from Cochrane as chief pharmacist’s mate while preparing to invade Japan. The remaining PhM1c rates were held by combat veterans. Perpetually smiling James Guyett had been with the battalion since Saipan, where he was wounded slightly; Walter Dodd’s dress blues already sported one Bronze Star ribbon (he would add a second award after the battle); Vermoine “Curly” Klauss was similarly decorated with a Bronze Star and Purple Heart from Saipan, and like Dodd would soon receive a second Bronze Star for service on Iwo Jima.

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Decorated veterans: Guyett (left), Dodd (center), and Klauss.

Missing from the photo are:
PhM1c Frank Munski  – on duty with the battalion’s rear echelon at Camp Maui.
PhM1c Sam Susman – wounded and evacuated March 6.

Pharmacist’s Mates, Second Class

The middle rung of the pharmacist’s ladder, Pharmacist’s Mates Second Class tended to be either seasoned Navy men who had worked their way up the ladder, or younger individuals who had come from a medical school background but had not yet completed their studies. They were the workhorses of the section, capable of working either at the aid station or on the front line.

hearnbakercompCorpsmen William Baker (left) and Charles Hearn were two of the original battalion corpsmen.

William Baker and Charles Hearn had both worked their way up through the ranks. This was especially surprising for Hearn, easily one of the smallest men in the section and, at 20 years old, one of the youngest holding this rating. Experience among the others – Richard Ervin, Robert Haynes, Joseph Hazel, and Carl Zaar – varied from three previous battles to no prior combat experience. Ellsworth Blanchard, a Colorado State dramatist-turned-corpsman, was wounded in the battle but returned to the front lines to finish out the campaign.

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Ellsworth Blanchard, in college (1941) and on Iwo Jima.

One of the PhM2cs stood out to the surgeons – Ben Flores, currently on his fourth landing and a veteran of front line service. He was happily working behind the lines until March 8, when approached by Doc Lyon. One of the line corpsman had been killed, and a young sailor with no frontline experience and no buddies in the rifle platoons was to be his replacement. Lyon asked Flores, “who knew everyone in the platoons and wouldn’t make mistakes after four landings,” to consider going in the younger man’s place. Flores simply picked up his rifle and gear and trotted off to Company B, with whom he spent the final eight days of the battle. Lyon immediately submitted Flores for the Bronze Star, and the corpsman lived to receive it and a promotion after the battle. florescomp

Missing from the photo are:
PhM2c William Edwards – on duty with the battalion’s rear echelon at Camp Maui.
PhM2c Virgil Deets – killed in action March 1.
PhM2c John Schmid – wounded in action March 7
PhM2c Harold Brasell – wounded in action March 7.

Pharmacist’s Mates, Third Class

The junior petty officers among the corpsmen on Iwo were generally younger than the senior rates, most were in combat for the first time, and were more often in the danger zone attached to rifle companies on the front line. Out of twelve who landed, only four are present for this picture. Donald Carlson and William Ogden were typical of the junior corpsmen; both on their first operation and lucky to survive, they were awarded Bronze Star medals for their exploits. Unfortunately, not much else is known of them.

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If Carlson and Ogden were the examples, Donald Swartz was the exception. The 23-year-old from Holly, Michigan had marked three years in the Navy just a week before landing on Iwo, and he knew firsthand how difficult combat could be, having served on Roi-Namur and suffering a nasty wound on Saipan that laid him up in the hospital for several months. He had at one point held a PhM2c rating, but was demoted in the winter of 1944, likely for a disciplinary infraction.

Finally, there was young Danny Danhauer. Danhauer was assigned to the battalion aid station rather than a rifle platoon; the two surgeons wanted to keep an eye on him, as he was planning to attend medical school. However, as the rifle platoons took casualties, the corpsmen from the aid station had to go forward as replacements—and on March 8, when HA1c Billie Leavell was killed in B Company’s sector, Danhauer was next in line to go to the front.

Knowing Danny would “find himself with strangers in a platoon” where it was “much too dangerous,” Doc Lyon made his appeal to PhM2c Flores, and Danhauer stayed at the aid station. The day after this dramatic incident, March 9 1945, was Danhauer’s 20th birthday. It is interesting that Danhauer is sitting down in this picture—having been, in his own words, wounded “in the can” as he leaned over a wounded Marine.

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March 9 was also the day that PhM3c Ralph W. Thomas won the Navy Cross for taking the blast of an enemy grenade while treating a wounded Marine. He was the only corpsman from First Battalion to receive this high honor during the war.

Missing from the photo are:
PhM3c Norris Fulgham – wounded and evacuated February 23.
PhM3c David Pasternik – wounded and evacuated February 23.
PhM3c DeVore Gordon – wounded and evacuated February 24.
PhM3c Joseph Miller – wounded and evacuated March 1.
PhM3c Anthony Marquez – killed in action March 4.
PhM3c Howard Nowoc – killed in action March 6.
PhM3c Ronald Millhiser – wounded in action March 8.
PhM3c Ralph Thomas – wounded in action March 9.

Hospital Apprentices

The lowest rating for a qualified Naval medical practitioner was Hospital Apprentice. Most commonly, the rating designated the youngest graduates of Field Medical School, but not necessarily the least experienced in combat—half of 1/24’s eight Hospital Apprentices had prior combat experience, but none was over the age of 22. Three of the seven who landed survived to be photographed.

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Francis Felicia with Company A (left) and with the medical section.

Francis Felicia turned twenty on D+3 (February 22, 1945.) A Sioux Indian by heritage, Felicia had more experience than any other two HAs combined; he’d been promoted to PhM3c after the battle of Namur, but lost the rating again thanks to a spotty disciplinary record. He was a front-line corpsman with Company A, and although wounded on Saipan had returned for Iwo Jima. Shortly before this picture was taken, Felicia had posed for a similar portrait with his friends in Able Company—the only corpsman visible. The other two surviving apprentices, Robert Misamore and Bennie Evans (ages 18 and 21) both survived unscathed and were awarded promotions to Pharmacist’s Mate following the battle. Evans also received the Bronze Star medal.

Missing from the photo are:
HA1c Walter Leonard – hospitalized on Saipan, did not make the landing.
HA1c Maurice Savidge – killed in action March 2.
HA2c Thomas Hernan – wounded and evacuated March 2.
HA1c Lloyd Ahlman – wounded and evacuated March 3.
HA1c Billie Leavell – killed in action March 8.

Unidentified in the photo

The pictures above are the faces of Donald Carlson, Richard Ervin, Bennie Evans, Robert Haynes, Robert Misamore, Wiliam Ogden, and Carl Zaar. Unfortunately, because no other identified photo has been located, it is currently impossible to say for certain who is who.

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