The more imminent combat becomes, the more important it is for Marines (or combatants) to believe in the competence and dedication of their Corpsmen and medical personnel who serve with them.  Countless studies from the World Wars to the present day have demonstrated that once combat begins, belief in the medical competence of military doctors and corpsmen is a significant factor in maintaining high morale.   

I saw this in action in Vietnam in December 1966.  I was a young infantry platoon leader at the time.  Our company led a combat patrol into the mountainous jungle.  As the lead platoon, my men crossed the river to secure the far side for the rest of the company.  

Without warning, a tremendous explosion shattered the jungle stillness.  The blast erupted at least a hundred meters to my rear, but I immediately saw upon returning to the river crossing site, serious devastation had wounded and killed a number of Marines and Corpsmen.   I and my platoon returned to the river.  We were in disbelief, but we’d learned to expect the unexpected.  While we understood the immediate need to assist those wounded and killed, we also knew that we were potentially vulnerable to attack.  We had to remain focused as we concurrently assisted the wounded, but continued to secure the site from a potential enemy attack amid the carnage and confusion.  The bomb had instantly killed about ten Marines at the river’s edge.  Another twenty plus lay strewn about, badly wounded, many of them critically, many fatally.    

One of the wounded, the company’s senior Navy medical corpsman, Don “Doc” Rion, took action.  Doc Rion was a Corpsman of average physical stature, but his psychological state was absolutely incredible.  He’d demonstrated exceptional courage and compassion in past battles while administering medical aid to wounded Marines.  But now he had to demonstrate that same courage and compassion regarding his own wounds.  

Both of his legs had been blown off, severed above each knee.  He lay on the muddy riverbank in shock and agony, undoubtedly struggling to assess his own needs and life as well as he could while deciding how he could help others. Months of experience in combat and service, though, spun him into action.  He had the presence of mind to perform some of the most selfless acts of courage I’ve ever witnessed.  He probably knew from his medical experience that he would neither survive his wounds nor the day, but he saw his final minutes as an opportunity to do what he did best – save the lives of his Marines.  

In the chaos and confusion of the situation, Doc seemed organized and calm.  I would never presume to believe that he’d resigned himself to his fate, but I do believe that he was resolute in his determination to help others.  His pain prevented much talk, but he effectively motioned and pantomimed his intentions.  The Marines listened as Doc guided them in caring for and treating the severely wounded.  There was nothing else that needed to be said.  Doc’s selfless attitude and actions spoke volumes.  

Doc grabbed handfuls of mud and plastered his stumps to slow the bleeding.  This gave him extra precious minutes to remain conscious and to commit himself to others.  That done, he directed the Marine survivors about what to do for the other casualties.  He did this primarily by motions and gestures as he was becoming too weak to actively assist.   Yet, his actions were an incredible motivation to the morale of the wounded and those caring for them.   When someone offered to bandage Doc’s wounds, Doc replied there was no time.  He instinctively knew that bandages would probably do no good.  His mind was set on saving others.  He undoubtedly had a desire to live, but his life was of less concern to him than the lives of others for whom he’d taken an oath to serve.

Doc Rion dragged himself from Marine to Marine thinking quickly and clearly about what needed to be done.  He was stoic; he was solemn.  His verbal comments were minimal, but his relentless actions represented the maximum.  On that battlefield, Marines close to death respected him and relied upon him as  the lone person who could save them from that death.  

Doc Rion died before he could be medevaced to a hospital.  I know of no last words.  I sense, however, that he knew he’d done his duty because he died rather peacefully considering the devastation that characterized his final minutes. Through his efforts I hope he knew in death that he had lived just long enough to save many others from their wounds.  

Later, a report from the hospital in the rear was given to the command. It said that four or five Marines had been saved from certain death because of the immediate on-scene care they received under Doc’s orders.

Doc Rion sacrificed his life so that others could live.  He honored the motto of the Medical Corps as well as the Marine code, “Semper fi” – “Always faithful” -- his actions will forever remind me of the essence of courage and compassion.  

Major General John H.  Admire, USMC (Ret)
Infantry Platoon Leader, Company M, 3rd Battalion
3rd Marines, Vietnam, 1966-1967
John Admire
Rod Consalvo
Crouson Family
Larry Green
Doc Hardin
Doc Thomas
3/3 History

Profile In Courage: Don “Doc” Rion
by Major General John H. Admire, USMC (Ret)