View Full Version : Unsung Heroes of the Korean War

10-03-02, 10:09 AM
They Were Called "Doc"


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

By Maj Allan C. Bevilacqua, USMC (Ret)

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 East Coast.

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 Il 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 exposed position.

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.