I enlisted in the Navy in August of 1966 thinking it would be much safer than getting drafted by the Army and being sent to Vietnam. During boot camp I was given 3 choices for which MOS I wanted to train for. My first choice was a cook, the second was Corpsman (I was really thinking!), and I forgot what my third choice was. Because my ARI/ GCT (intelligence test?) score was too low for being a corpsman they gave me a MOS as a cook striker. In December 1966, after boot camp, they had me report to the USS Bon Homme Richard stationed in San Diego, California. I reported to the Commissary Division and started working in the Galley. Shortly after I arrived, the Bon Homme was sent on a WESTPAC tour, which included flight operations against North Vietnam, while on Yankee Station in the Tonkin Gulf . It also included port visits to Oahu, Hawaii, the Phillipines, and Japan. In May of 1967, while the ship was on line in the Tonkin Gulf, I was summoned to the personnel office. Upon entering the office they asked my name and told me I had orders to become a corpsman "if I wanted to". They let me know that I did not have to take the orders. Well; I figured they must be getting pretty desperate to have turned me down in boot camp and are now reneging on their decision. They caught me at the right time because me and shipboard life did not get along. We would stay on line at sea for 40 days and then hit a port for a couple of days of liberty. Being a cook, I seldom saw anything but the dull gray walls below deck for periods of weeks at a time while at sea. To me, it felt like being in jail and I started to really hate it. Anyway, I accepted the orders and was flown off the carrier to the Philippines upon which they put me on a MAC flight home. They gave me 30 days off and then I had to report back to San Diego for Hospital Corps School and then Field Med School at Camp Pendleton. The schools went well and I finished among the top in my class. After the schools, they gave me a choice of any Naval hospital in the Continental U.S. to work at for a year. I chose Portsmouth Naval Hospital in Virginia because it was near my home in Norfolk. After working there for a year, on the Cardiology ward, orders were handed out for our next duty station. Surprise! My orders were for the 1st Marine Division in Vietnam. So after a year, working in a cushy atmosphere at the hospital, they send me to the 3rd Battalion/ 26th Marines stationed outside Da Nang at the time. It was the equivalent of having a luxury suite at the Hilton and then being thrown out to live in the streets. The first thing I noticed when we landed was the dirt and filth that covered the countryside and it's inhabitants. I reported to 3/26 and then told to report to Kilo Company and ask for the corpsman who's place I was taking. I found him and he threw his medical bag at me and said "it's all yours" and ran out of the tent. So, as you can see, I ended up exactly in the place that I wanted to avoid when I enlisted - "in country".
By: HM2 Keith "Doc" Miller
HOW I BECAME A FMF CORPSMAN
3/26 Marines - Kilo & H&S Companies
USS BON HOMME RICHARD (CVA - 31)