JACKSONVILLE, North Carolina –
Just outside Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, structures and statues rise from a plot of land. This space is hallowed ground, where names and sacrifices are not forgotten. The Lejeune Memorial Gardens pays respects to those who have shaped United States military history.
Tucked behind the pines is a monument not yet revealed to the public. This memorial will honor the men and women who stand side-by-side with Marines, ready to render medical aid – the Navy Corpsmen. As scarlet and gold are weaved through the heritage of Camp Lejeune and the city of Jacksonville, there is Navy blue firmly tied to the “Devil Dogs,” a presence anchored in the community for 80 years.
On October 12, 2022, the Corpsmen Memorial will be dedicated in a formal ceremony. The journey to bring the memorial to Jacksonville has been several decades in the making.
“A group of people, both civilian and military, gathered together and discussed the feasibility of creating an organization to build a memorial honoring the Fleet Marine Force Corpsmen,” said Kris Burritt, a founding member of the Corpsmen Memorial Foundation. "In January 2008, such an organization was founded comprised of active duty and retired Corpsmen, Marines and civilians who pledged to do just that.”
Since 2008, the foundation has raised funds to support the creation of the memorial. According to the Corpsmen Memorial Foundation’s website, the memorial is meant “to honor all those who served alongside the Marine as Fleet Marine Force Corpsmen.”
The Corpsmen Memorial Foundation sought an artist whose past work has already left an indelible mark on Camp Lejeune and Jacksonville. Standing watch at the Beirut Memorial is the bronze statue of a lone Marine, "The Peacekeeper." His steely gaze looks to the distance, guarding the 241 names of Marines and Sailors killed in the 1983 attack in Lebanon.
Both "The Peacekeeper" and the Corpsmen Memorial are statues created by artist Abbe Godwin of Colfax, North Carolina. After being contacted by the foundation, Godwin dedicated time to researching her subject.
“I take these opportunities very seriously. I look to the subject matter for inspiration, and I want those who see the work I make to feel the same inspiration that I felt while researching the material,” said Godwin.
Godwin read memoirs to help her better understand the perspectives of Corpsmen and paid a visit to Field Medical Training Battalion-East where Sailors train in medical readiness to support the Fleet Marine Force. The monument, which Godwin has titled "Corpsman Up," is near the gates of Camp Johnson, the home of FMTB-E.
“The Corpsmen were inspiration for the piece The young servicemen and women were highly motivated,” Godwin explained. “I tried to do my best to make a work that they would appreciate, and they would understand that the artist loves and admires them.”
The history of the Corpsman rate dates back more than 100 years. The Naval History and Heritage Command documents the formal establishment by Congress of the first Hospital Corps on June 17, 1898. While the Hospital Corps was officially formed during the Spanish-American War, medical care on the battlefield had been around for centuries.
An excerpt from the Hospital Corps Quarterly published in 1948 reads, “Naturally, the history of the Hospital Corps did not begin with the creation of the corps, by Congress. Instead it actually began when man first showed interest in the pain or discomfort of his fellow man.”
The memorial is more than a recognition of the dead; it’s a recognition of the bond between the Navy Corpsman and the Marine, the concept that wherever you find a Marine in battle, you will find a Corpsman. Images on the foundation’s website shows the sculpture in the clay model phase. A Corpsman shields an injured Marine with his body, protecting the wounded from dangers beyond.
“The bond and relationship between Navy Corpsmen and Marines is sacred and unbreakable! They are a united team of brothers and sisters who don the cloth of a grateful nation,” said Raymond Applewhite, member of the Corpsmen Memorial Foundation.
Applewhite is a retired Senior Chief Hospital Corpsman who spent many years stationed alongside Marines. For him, the memorial holds a great deal of personal meaning.
“Even though [Sailors and Marines] wear different military uniforms they train and fight together,” Applewhite said. “The memorial is our way of saying ‘Thank you, Doc’ to those magnificent Corpsmen who, in many instances, risked their own lives to treat injured Marines.”
Definitive numbers of Corpsmen deaths pre-date the establishment of the Hospital Corps. The foundation calculates approximately 2,227 Corpsmen have been killed in the line of duty since the inception of the Corpsman rate. Walkways around the statue will be paved with bricks cast with the names of these corpsmen.
Godwin hopes once the memorial is officially revealed to the public, viewers will open their hearts and minds to the ideals the statue represents.
“Such spaces are deemed hallowed ground because of the gravity of the subject matter. Our servicemen and women deserve no less than this,” Godwin said. “We need to always remember those to whom we are indebted…to be inspired by their bravery, their dedication of duty.”
The Corpsmen Memorial honors the fallen, but also stands as a monument to Corpsmen of the present and future.
Said Burritt, “I hope that all people will recognize the importance of the Navy Corpsmen in war time as well as in peace and the very special bond between the Marine and his ‘Doc’ that lasts beyond the tour of duty.”
The Corpsmen Memorial will be unveiled on October 12 at 10 a.m. Guest speakers will include prior corpsmen as well as Navy and Marine Corps leadership.