CORPSMAN !



At the end of Frank Corry's arms are two hands, hands which have clutched hemorrhaging, torn flesh.  His once eighteen-year-old eyes have beheld the most unassuageable  agony.  His ears have heard a boy's bone-chilling screams begging for his mothers' embrace.  All of this while his  brain was remembering his training - to diagnose, treat and secure his patients before moving on to the next tortured soul lying on blood stained  beaches and rocky coral gullies on volcanic islands of the South Pacific.  This is the story of Dublin's Frank Corry, United States Navy Corpsman,  and how he, as a teenager,  served in and survived two of the most deadly battles of Marine warfare in our country's history.

Frank Corry, a tall, lanky boy scout from the coal town of  Oakman, Alabama, had no idea what was in store for him.  When, still a boy of 17, Frank enlisted in the United States Navy, three days before Valentine's Day, 1943.  He told the Navy that he wanted to be an airplane mechanic or a gunner.  They assigned him to the Hospital Corps.

After attending both Navy and Marine boot camps, Frank still had no idea of what was going to happen to him the following summer in far away South Pacific Islands.  As a Pharmacist Mate 2nd Class, Corry felt that the Marines were treating him and his fellow corpsmen "like the lowest of the low."  That treatment was about to change, and  in a hurry.

Corry's dislike of Marines nearly got him in deep trouble with the Marine brass on Pavuvu Island.  Corry, who had never given a shot in his life before, yelled "fresh meat" to one marine, who took the shot, smiled and moved on.  The next day Frank saw that marine, who, as it turned out, was Major Gordon Gayle, his battalion commander.

 After his stay at Pavuvu, the hostile relationships ended when Major Gayle told his Marines the importance of the corpsmen and strongly reiterated that it was the duty of the Marines to protect them at all costs.

It was only going to take two to three days for the Marines to take the island of Peleliu, so said Marine general William H. Rupertus.  So, when  Frank and the First Marine Division hit the beaches, they expected an initially tough, but relatively short, three-day battle.  That's when things went wrong, terribly wrong. The supposedly 11,000 or so Japanese defenders were not ready to give up and throw their arms down, not yet.

"When I hit the beach, I had planned to go find the Battalion Aid Station, but couldn't get away because of the heavy casualties," Corry (shown on right carrying stretcher) recalled.

Corry observed wave after wave of amtracs coming in and being knocked out one after another. Bodies  were  bobbing in the water and covering the shoreline.

"It was just horrible - the carnage there on the beach.  When I would treat one casualty  by slapping on battle dressings, giving plasma and injecting morphine before turning to a Marine and telling  him to drag him back off the beach.

During the fighting ,one particular casualty still haunts Corry's mind.  "His abdominal area was riddled and small intestinal contents were coming out.  I can't explain the smell, but it was a sickening smell.  I had hardened myself  where I could detach my feelings when I was treating the wounded, but that was one that really got to me.  I sobbed," Frank recalled.

It was only the beginning of eight days which Frank Corry described as, "Hot as the Hubs of Hades."  In the shade, temperatures were between 110 and 120 degrees.  Enemy fire accelerated as the dying increased.  The stifling heat continued to take a deadly toll on the attacking and wounded Marines.

            The First Marines had relied on General Rupertus' belief that the battle would be over in three days.  On D-Day +4, Frank Corry took just a brief moment to celebrate not only that he had made it through the conflagration so far, but to commemorate his 19th birthday.

In the first 200 hours, almost 1700 men were killed and wounded.  After 74 days of close fighting, the fighting was over, 13,000 Japanese defenders were dead. The 1st Marines, who had expected a somewhat easy task, accumulated  6,336 casualties with 1,121 of those marines being killed.  According to Corry's computations, 3,000 people were killed for every square mile of the 4.5 square mile island, not counting Mangrove Swamp.  The First Marine Division, with more than a third of its men killed or wounded, returned to Pavuvu to sit out the war until the invasion of Okinawa, which the generals promised would be heavily defended.  This time the generals got it right.

It was April Fool's Day and Easter Sunday and the generals got it wrong at least in what they feared in the initial hours of the invasion.  "We expected to be blown out of the water at any time,"  Corry recalled.  There were no narrow beaches, no cliffs, and no gunfire.  "It was unbelievable," Corry recollected.    The relative peace of the landing was soon to be shattered.

During the first month of April, Corry saw very little hostile action in the hills of the north end of Okinawa.  May would bring much, much more dying.

During the first days of May, the fighting escalated.  Corpsman Robert Eugene Bush, one of eight corpsman in Frank Corry's (right) company, was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his gallantry and intrepidity in saving the lives of Marines while risking his own life.  Bush, too was only 19 years old.

Through places known as  Awacha Draw,  Wana Draw, Shuri Castle,  Kunishi Ridge, and the final fight for Hill 81 when the final summer of the war began,  Frank kept going, doing his duty wherever and whenever he could.  Another 19-year-old battalion corpsman, William D. Halyburton was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Of the 232 original members of Company G, 2nd Regiment, 5th Division of the First Marine Corps, 131 were wounded and 31 were killed in a mind numbing total of 70 percent casualties.  Only one of the company's eight corpsman was not wounded. He was Frank Corry, who remained on Okinawa until the news of the atomic bomb and the end of the war came.

Frank Corry, who had survived the carnage of Peleliu and Okinawa,  finally succumbed to a case of hookworms.  He was taken to a naval hospital for treatment only to face a deadly typhoon which destroyed 80% of all of the housing and buildings on the base.

After an eventful tour in China, Frank returned to Camp Elliot in San Diego, where he departed more than a year before.    After three years of service, Frank returned home by bus.  As he was passing the school were his mother taught, he met his kid brother Harold.  The brothers barely recognized each other. That is what war can do to you.


Frank Corry (right)  joined the Naval Reserve during the Korean War, but continued to press his studies to become a pharmacist.   Weary of the horrors he had witnessed in the South Pacific, Frank contacted J. Lister Hill, who would represent Alabama as a congressman and senator for 45 years.  With Senator Lister's aid, Corry worked as pharmacist at the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, Florida - an assignment which would prepare him for his civilian career.

In April, 1968, Frank, his wife Nell and his children, Joe and Beth,  moved from Houston, Texas to a home in the Brookwood subdivision of Dublin.  Corry  was the new Assistant Chief of Pharmacy at the Carl Vinson VA Medical Center, which was originally a  Naval hospital.  Corry retired in the 1990s after nearly four decades of service to the V.A..







Today, Frank Corry, still lives in his quiet home of nearly fifty years in Brookwood.  On this day and on every day of his life, Frank Corry, a quiet yet fervent patriot, still enjoys the fond memories of his buddies who he met during his time in the Navy.  As he clasps his hands together in deeper thoughts, he remembers just how lucky he was to survive the war.  Frank never forgets the horrors of those he left behind on the beds of sandy beaches and razor sharp coral draws a lifetime ago when he was just a boy doing a job that few men would or could ever do.



Comments

What a story. I knew his daughter, Beth. He is a true hero.