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This is the story from Richard Miller about his Naval service.
Thank you, Richard for your story.
I’ll start my story when I graduated from High School in 1969. The Viet Nam war was at its peak and figuring I was going to get drafted anyway I decided to enlist. I was planning to enlist in the fall but in July I had to have some minor surgery which took all fall to heal. Before enlisting in the Navy, I worked at Wilson’s Meat Packing plant in Cedar Rapids for a few months to save some money. That was an eye-opening experience but that’s another story.
In April of 1970 I left for San Diego for boot camp and there began my career in the Navy. Because of the war the Navy was desperately short of medical Corpsmen. The Navy provides the Marine Corps with Corpsmen, so the need was great. After graduating from boot camp, off to Corps School I went. I often joked that the Navy saw I had worked in a packing plant and apparently wasn’t afraid of blood! I was one of 30 of my boot camp company sent to Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego. Although we comprised a class of over 70, only about 30 of us made it all the way through to graduation. My first duty station was at Bethesda Naval Hospital which is near Washington D.C. That facility is now called Walter Reed, a combined Navy-Army command. Because of the war wounded we worked very long hours with little time off, but it was very good training. After 10 months I transferred to Quantico Marine Base in Virginia. I worked in the Emergency Room and on a lot of trauma cases. This gave me valuable experience in emergency life support, suturing, casting, and a thousand other things. Working in an environment like that again, was very good training.
In December of 1972, I transferred to U.S.S. Ashtabula AO51, home ported in Long Beach, CA. In order to take care of a crew of roughly 240 sailors we had a Chief Corpsmen in charge of Sick Bay and 3 Corpsmen of lower rank. We had no doctor on board. I was in charge of the treatment room and sick call; and was the lead Corpsmen for the aft battle dressing station during General Quarters. I also did safety and food inspections, first aid classes, pest control and countless other duties you are assigned to when you are on a war ship. My prior experience served me well in this position.
In the fall of 1973, we sailed for Southeast Asia. We worked an area around the Philippines, Japan, Viet Nam, and Cambodia. During this time, we received a short notice sail order to join a carrier battle group heading to the Red Sea, Persian Gulf area during the Yom Kippur War between Israel and Egypt. Our job was to keep the Russians at bay since they were threatening to land troops in support of Egypt. It was a very tense time when Russia, Israel and the U.S. went to nuclear alert. There were many Russian ships in the area, and we had numerous confrontations with them. After 53 days we returned to the South China Sea area for operations there supporting operations near Cambodia and South Viet Nam. At the end of my four year hitch I was honorably discharged and returned to Iowa.
More of Richard’s story will be in the March Newsletter.