Medic and Corpsmen Facts

More than 1,100 medics and 680 corpsmen were killed in action and many more were wounded during the Vietnam War. Fifteen Army medics and four Navy corpsmen received the Congressional Medal of Honor for heroic actions they performed in this war. Ten of these citations were awarded posthumously.

Read more about medic Medal of Honor recipients

Thanks to the widespread use of helicopters for medical evacuations (known as "dust-off" missions), the wounded often waited mere minutes for transport to the nearest medical centers. A soldier or Marine in Vietnam had a 98% chance of survival if he was evacuated within the first hour of being injured - the best odds in the history of American warfare up to that time. It was the medic or corpsman who held death at bay during that crucial period. There were 980,000 Dustoff evacuation flights during the Vietnam War. Read more

The Vietnam War presented medical units with new obstacles. Unlike previous conflicts, frontlines became blurred in Vietnam: Combat operations were conducted in the country's diverse terrain of jungles, mountains, rice paddies, and coastal waters. The unconventional nature of the fighting left the roads unsecured, making evacuation of the wounded problematic. Inconsistent contact with the enemy meant medical teams had to admit influxes of wounded service people at a moment's notice. The foreign environment forced medical personnel to confront diseases that did not exist in the United States. Despite these challenges, medical teams provided exceptional care during the Vietnam War, and military medical practitioners revolutionized crucial aspects of combat and civilian medicine.

Read more from the Vietnam War 50th Commemoration

Unlike their predecessors in previous wars, medics and corpsmen in Vietnam fought alongside their fellow soldiers and Marines - many carried rifles, sidearms, even hand grenades along with their medical kits.

Most corpsmen and medics carried M16A1 rifles with 10-14 magazines of 18 rounds. Their magazines could carry up to 20 rounds, but the majority of the grunts didn't fill them to capacity in order to avoid a weapons malfunction.

During the Vietnam War 10,000 Navy Hospital Corpsmen served with their Marine brothers. 645 of them were killed in action (KIA) and 3,300 were wounded in action (WIA).

In modern times, most combat medics carry a personal weapon, to be used to protect themselves and the wounded or sick in their care. By convention this is limited to small caliber firearms such as 9mm pistols.

Military medics are at high risk for burnout, compassion fatigue, combat stress, and Medic PTSD. PTSD is a cluster of symptoms that can occur following a traumatic event. The symptoms can include: reliving the event, avoiding situations that remind you of an event, feeling on edge, nightmares, or difficulty sleeping.

While corpsmen and medics historically didn't carry weapons, today's combat corpsmen and combat medics are not only trained to fight, but are allowed to defend themselves if they come under attack, usually at short range and usually in response to a surprise attack while attending to or evacuating a wounded patient. However, not all corpsmen and medics carry a weapon. Learn about conscience objector medics here.