Dedication and courage were common coin among the corpsmen of the 1stMarDiv in those
days a half-century ago when Marines called on a comrade named "Doc" to tend their wounds under fire. – USMC
(Click the picture for a larger view)
Above and beyond the call of duty. It came down to that so very often, as it did when nightfall on 27 March
1953 found Captain Ralph E. Estey’s "Fox" Company, 2d Battalion, Seventh Marine Regiment in a fierce battle to
regain a combat outpost named Vegas on Korea’s Western Front. One of three outposts, Reno, Carson and Vegas,
collectively known as the Nevada Outposts, Vegas, located some 1,300 yards forward of the Main Line of
Resistance (MLR), had been overrun by Chinese attackers the previous day.
The Marines were determined to retake Vegas. The Chinese were equally determined to hold on to the
shell-blasted hill. Fox Co advanced into a maelstrom, deluged by a shower of shells, 60 mm, 82 mm, 76 mm and 120
mm, all the while lashed by machine-gun fire. Despite the furious fires directed at them, Capt Estey’s Marines
fought their way forward to shoot, blast and bludgeon the fiercely resisting Chinese from the eastern portions
of the hill. Casualties in the ranks of Fox Co were heavy.
It was while attending one of those casualties that Hospital Corpsman Third Class William R. Charette saw a
Chinese grenade land only a few feet away from the wounded Marine. Without a moment’s hesitation HM3 Charette
threw himself over the helpless Marine, shielding him from the blast and absorbing its full force himself.
Partially stunned, with his helmet and equipment torn from him by the force of the explosion, Charette resumed
administering aid to the wounded man, then proceeded to another Marine in need of assistance.
With his medical supplies demolished by the bursting grenade, Charette tore his own clothing into bandages.
Encountering a seriously wounded Marine whose armored vest had been blown from him, Charette, after tending to
the Marine’s wounds, draped his own vest over the fallen man to protect him from further harm. Then, oblivious
to his own safety, Charette stood upright, exposing himself to a hail of fire, in order to give more effective
aid to a Marine whose leg had been ripped by mortar fragments.
Somehow managing to be everywhere at once, Charette moved through the firestorm, tending to fallen Marines in
complete disregard for the danger all around him. Staff Sergeant Robert S. Steigerwald saw him. "Charette was
everyplace seemingly at the same time, performing inexhaustibly," Steigerwald would later testify.
For his extraordinary heroism above and beyond the call of duty HM3 William R. Charette would become one of
five corpsmen to receive his country’s highest decoration for military valor, the Medal of Honor, during the
Korean War. He alone would live to receive the award.
William Charette’s willingness to risk all in following the call of duty was not the isolated act of one man.
Far from it, Charette’s courage and dedication to caring for the wounded were common coin among the corpsmen of
the 1stMarDiv in those days a half-century ago. Certainly, courage and dedication were the qualities that
motivated Hospitalman Dorrin Stafford on a frigid October night at the small seaport of Kojo on North Korea’s
Kojo was where Lieutenant Colonel Jack Hawkins’ 1st Bn, 1st Marines found itself on the night of 27 Oct.
1950, following the 1stMarDiv’s landing at Wonsan. The South Korean forces the battalion had relieved departed
with assurances that there were no organized enemy units in the area. Assurances aside, LtCol Hawkins deployed
his rifle companies on full alert, prepared for any eventuality. It was a good thing he did.
Shortly after 2200 Colonel Cho II Kwon’s 10th Regiment of the North Korean 5th Division launched a
well-coordinated attack on 1/1’s positions. Well planned and rehearsed, the assault slammed into the Marine
lines, ranks of North Korean infantry quickly closing to hand-grenade range and by sheer weight of numbers
forcing the defenders to give ground.
Particularly hard hit was Capt Wes Noren’s Baker Co. Waves of North Korean grenadiers, coming on despite
heavy casualties, forced First Lieutenant George Belli’s 1st Platoon from its precarious grip on the slopes of
Hill 109. The platoon’s withdrawal was made possible by the determined stand of Sergeant Clayton Roberts, who
held back the attackers with machine-gun fire until he fell with wounds that would claim his life.
It was in the midst of this desperate fight, with more and more of the 1st Platoon’s Marines knocked to the
ground by enemy fire, that HN Stafford answered the call of "Corpsman!" Armed with only his medical kit and
pistol, Stafford dashed into the night to respond to the cry of the stricken Marine and directly into the path
of the oncoming enemy. He didn’t stop to think about it; he just did it. Dorrin Stafford’s answer to the call of
duty would prove costly. The courageous corpsman was never seen again.
The fight raged throughout the next day before the attackers were repelled with heavy losses, and the
situation was stabilized. That afternoon a Baker Co patrol reached the site of SSgt Roberts’ stand to find the
bodies of Roberts and 15 other Marines who died with him. Some of them had been treated for wounds before dying,
evidence that Stafford indeed had reached them. But the body of HN Dorrin Stafford, who refused to abandon
wounded Marines despite the great danger to himself, was not found, and his final resting place remains unknown.
If the saga of Dorrin Stafford ended in tragedy, the story of another 1st Marines’ corpsman, HN Joseph V.
Churchill, played itself out to a better finale, although it took awhile. It began on 23 April 1951, on the
fire-swept slopes of a Korean hill known as Horseshoe Ridge, where HN Churchill, a member of Capt Robert P.
"Bob" Wray’s Charlie, 1/1 was himself seriously wounded while attempting to move a wounded Marine to a less
As a pair of litter bearers were carrying Churchill from the field, he saw a Marine platoon leader struck in
the throat by machine-gun fire and tumble to the ground, a fountain of blood spewing from a severed carotid
artery. Churchill knew the officer would bleed to death in minutes if he were not tended to. It was then that
both of Churchill’s litter bearers went down wounded.
Determining that neither man had suffered a life-threatening wound, Churchill, despite the great pain of his
own wounds, called for two nearby Marines to carry him to the downed officer’s side. There he successfully
clamped off the gouts of blood spurting from the torn gash in the man’s throat. That done he tended to the
wounds of the pair of Marines who only minutes before had been carrying him to safety.
Safety was something that could wait. There were blood-soaked Marines in need of treatment. In the open, and
exposed to continuous enemy fire, Churchill set about treating other casualties who were brought to his side,
refusing evacuation himself while there were Marines in need of aid. No one would have faulted him for leaving
the field, painfully wounded as he was. No one would have thought any the less of him. He stayed. Unable to walk
or even crawl, Churchill dragged himself from man to man, oblivious to the enemy fire pouring in from the higher
slopes of the ridge.
Finally evacuated himself, Churchill wasn’t quite done. When the truck he and other wounded were being
carried in came under enemy machine-gun fire, Churchill went into action again. Dragging himself painfully about
in the bed of the truck, he piled cases of C-rations as a barricade to protect his charges from further harm,
risking additional wounds himself.
In August of 1986 there was a reunion of Charlie Co veterans in San Francisco. There, before the men he had
fought beside, Senior Chief Hospital Corpsman Joseph V. Churchill, USN (Ret), a circuit court judge for the
state of Washington, received the Navy Cross from his old company commander, Col Bob Wray, USMC (Ret).
HM3 Lynn C. Blethan checked his medical equipment.
During the fighting around the Naktong River, he aided the wounded amid a concentration of enemy machine-gun
fire. [Photo by Sgt. Frank C. Kerr]
Call him William Charette, call him Dorrin Stafford, call him Joseph Churchill. To the Marines he served with
he was simply "Doc." He was Doc, who lived with them, who shared their cold C-rations while he squatted next to
them in the mud, battling flies for each bite spooned from a can. He was Doc, as dirty as they were, as smelly
as they were, one of them in every way, identifiable only by the medical kit he carried and the insignia of rank
he wore. He was Doc, the man they called for in their time of need.
For the most part Doc was a product of Field Medical School, where he had learned the advanced medical
techniques he would need in order to function on his own without a doctor’s supervision. It was also at Field
Medical School that Doc learned to be a Marine in all but name, and … not of some small importance … where he
received his first experience of living in the boondocks.
In the early days of the Korean War, though, not all corpsmen were products of Field Medical School. Some,
like Hospital Apprentice Bill Davis, arrived in Korea by less conventional routes. An undersized teenager barely
out of high school at the outbreak of war in Korea in the summer of 1950, Davis found himself whisked from the
diet kitchen of the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md., almost before he knew how it happened.
Deposited in the ranks of Capt Myron Wilcox’s newly formed Baker, 1/7 at Camp Pendleton, Calif., he would learn
field medicine through the on-the-job school of application.
Some of Davis’ instructors would be nontraditional, such as another Davis, LtCol Raymond G. Davis, his
battalion commander. It was outside of Seoul that September, where young Bill Davis was treating his first
combat casualty, a Marine with a shell-torn leg and arm and suffering severe blood loss, that the veteran
battalion commander taught the young corpsman how to tag the casualty and mark him for evacuation.
"Do it like this, son," said the colonel, thrusting the Marine’s bayoneted rifle into the ground and placing
the man’s helmet atop it. "Now call for stretcher bearers and catch up with your platoon. That’s where you’re
needed now." Turning to leave, the colonel stopped. "What’s your name, son?" "Davis, sir. Hospital Apprentice
Third Class William Davis, sir." "My name’s Davis, too," the colonel replied with a grin. "You just stay close
to our platoon. You’ll make a good Marine, Corpsman Davis."
Bill Davis would make a better than good Marine. Side by side with his platoon mates, caring for them when
they fell, always ready to respond to the call of "Corpsman!" Bill Davis learned his combat skills the only way
possible, by experiencing war up close and personal. The trail led him through Seoul and Wonsan, to Sudong along
the road to the Chosin Reservoir and into the frigid mountains of North Korea, until a shell fragment tore
through his mouth and took him out of the war. Out of the war, but not out of the Navy. Eventually commissioned
with a specialty in hospital administration, Bill Davis, the one-time "kid corpsman," would leave the Navy after
30 years as a lieutenant commander.
If the savage battling for Seoul was all new to Bill Davis, it was all in a day’s work for Chief Hospital
Corpsman Douglas Austin, the senior petty officer with 1/5’s Battalion Aid Station on 22 Sept. 1950. It was late
in the day that a volley of incoming mortar rounds struck the aid station area, wounding both Chief Austin and
the battalion surgeon, Lieutenant Junior Grade "Hogan" H’Doubler. No sooner had the dust cleared than another
flight of incoming rounds splattered Lt H’Doubler again, sending him to the ground to be evacuated.
Bleeding from shell fragments in his face and hobbled by wounds to his leg, but refusing evacuation, Chief
Austin took over the operation of 1/5’s aid station. Aided by two additional corpsmen, Boyle and Thronal, Austin
functioned as the battalion’s de facto surgeon, treating, stabilizing and evacuating more than 50 wounded
Marines. Only after another surgeon was sent forward from division would Chief Austin permit his own wounds to
Whether he was a youngster not long out of boot camp or an old-timer in his second war, doc was a handy man
to have around. More than a few Marines would live to be eternally grateful for Doc’s presence.
Certainly, Second Lieutenant Joe Owen would have cause to be thankful for that presence. That was on a
bitterly cold day in November 1950, when what was left of Baker, 1/7 was battling its way through a mass of
Chinese blocking the road from the Chosin Reservoir. At the head of his small platoon, Owen felt a volley of
slugs from a submachine gun slam into his right arm and shoulder, piercing his chest and lancing into his right
lung. With blood gushing from his mouth, Joe Owen was spun to the snow-covered ground.
Sprinting to his aid with sheets of bullets flying through the air was a young corpsman, a replacement who
had arrived only the day before. Frightened and fumbling, inexperienced in the near-arctic conditions, the
corpsman hastily popped a morphine syrette into his mouth to thaw it before injecting Owen with the painkiller
and getting to work on his wounds.
"You’re a good lad," Owen mumbled as the corpsman cut away his clothing to put a battle dressing over the
sucking wound in his chest. Then, unknowingly echoing the words of his battalion commander to another Baker Co
corpsman, Owen grasped the corpsman’s hand, telling him, "You’ll be a good Marine." Owen continued, "Here, take
these," taking the pictures of his wife and children from his helmet. "That’s my wife and kids. Don’t let the
gooks get them." "I won’t sir," replied the corpsman who had risked his life to go to Owen’s aid. Joe Owen never
knew the corpsman’s name. He was simply Doc.
Corporal John M. "Duke" Alston did know the name of the corpsman who went to his aid. The thing was, Duke
Alston and his platoon corpsman, Doc Allen, both members of the 2d Plt of Easy 2/5, didn’t much care for each
other. There didn’t seem to be any particular reason for it, just a case of two pretty good men who rubbed each
other the wrong way. Sometimes the rubbing got a bit intense, to the point of Alston and Allen rolling around in
the dirt and pounding on each other.
That was before a North Korean mortar gunner—the North Koreans were very good with mortars—put an 82mm round
close enough to Duke Alston to literally rip his legs out from under him one day in February of 1952. Stunned,
disoriented and in shock though he was, Alston knew he was in trouble. The bursting shell had all but torn both
of his legs from him. They hung by shreds of flesh, the left leg above the knee, the right leg just below the
knee. Bright red jets of blood pulsated from the severed subfemoral artery in his left leg, as his pounding
heart pumped his life’s blood out onto the ground. More blood ran in a steady flow from his mangled right leg.
Without immediate aid Duke Alston was going to die in only minutes.
Suddenly, there was aid. Oblivious to the danger to himself, giving no thought to the fact that the stricken
Marine on the ground was a man he held in less than warm regard, Doc Allen sprinted forward to kneel at Alston’s
side. With tourniquet and clamps he halted the life-threatening flow of blood that was soaking the ground
beneath the fallen Alston, got a unit of plasma flowing and worked feverishly to keep Alston from slipping so
deeply into shock that he could never come back. Close by Allen’s side was the battalion’s chaplain, Father
Joseph Gallagher, unhesitatingly risking his own life to be at the side of a Marine in need.
Helicopter evacuation, so common in another war 15 years later, was somewhat of a rarity in Korea during
1952, something reserved for only the most critically wounded, those who required immediate major surgery. Duke
Alston qualified. Whisked aboard a helicopter, he was flown directly to a hospital ship and rushed into the
operating room. He would live to serve as an example of a man’s ability to triumph over adversity for the
generations of high school students who knew him as Mr. Alston, thanks to a man called Doc.
Duke Alston never saw Doc Allen again, but he still thinks of him. How many other Marines who fought in Korea
know the same emotions? More than 26,000 Marines were wounded in action during the three years of the Korean
War. Many of them, like Joe Owen and Duke Alston, owe their very lives to prompt treatment by a corpsman.
Perhaps that is why anyone seeking the unsung hero of that war in Korea 50 years ago need not look too far. That
unsung hero is close at hand. His name was Doc.
So here’s to you, Doc. It is fitting and appropriate that during this month that marks the anniversary of the
birth of your service, Navy Day, that we, your brothers in arms, stand and salute you. You were right there with
us every step of the way. You were one of us, Doc. You shared our discomforts and privations, not to mention
those gastronomic atrocities known as C-rations. You stood beside us in deadly danger. When faced with perils
that made common sense cry out to turn and run, you went forward shoulder to shoulder with us. And when in our
times of need we called out to you, you never failed to come.
Thanks, Doc, thanks. And God bless you.
[Leatherneck Editor’s note: Maj Bevilacqua, a frequent contributor to Leatherneck, is a former
enlisted Marine who served in the Korean and Vietnam wars. Later in his career, he was an instructor at
Amphibious Warfare School and Command and Staff College, Quantico, Va.]
© 2001 Marine Corps Association. All rights reserved.