CAMP PENDLETON — The bond between Navy corpsmen and Marines is said to be unbreakable by those that know.
Countless Marine lives have been saved by the efforts of those corpsmen, who on hearing the words, “Corpsman up,” unflinchingly run into the heat of battle to rescue a fallen or wounded Marine.
The late Raul Avina, a World War II veteran knew too well that bond. While serving on Iwo Jima, Avina witnessed the selflessness of corpsmen rushing onto the battlegrounds to treat the injured.
That memory had stayed with him well beyond his years serving as a Marine.
More than 30 years ago, Avina began creating a memorial of what he’d witnessed at Iwo Jima in the garage of his Oceanside home.
What he created — a depiction of three Navy corpsmen lowering a wounded Marine from Mount Suribachi on the island of Iwo Jima — would eventually be dedicated and installed at the old Naval hospital on Camp Pendleton.
With the completion of the new hospital last year, officials had initially wanted to move the memorial to the new location.
Yet, because of time and decay the original couldn’t be moved as it was.
And now, because the original memorial has been preserved and modernized to last, no one will ever need to worry about the longevity of the memorial again, said Richard Heim, president and CEO of Clark Construction Group, the company that worked to update the memorial.
At 17-feet tall, the restored Corpsmen Memorial, as it’s become known, was rededicated at Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton earlier this month.
“It’s an incredible, heartfelt feeling that the venture went forward without any encouragement…to recreate the statue the way it was,” said Daniel Avina, one of Raul’s sons. Daniel had watched his father build the memorial in his garage.
His family would always ask Raul, “Why are you doing this? Why are you trying to destroy the house?”
He made it piece by piece in their garage, Daniel said. “It was heavy. The joists were caving in…it was pretty amazing,” he said.
“He was so compelled to do it and to complete it,” he added.
“This project looms big, in terms of how memorable and how emotional it was to the joint venture,” Heim said.
“I would hope Raul is looking down today and is smiling upon the effort that we all did — and it was an effort of love — to bring this memorial back to life with prosperity,” Heim said during the dedication ceremony.
Avina passed away in 2003.
Ray Ramirez, Avina’s nephew said he also saw the construction of the original memorial.
“It’s a little different,” Ramirez said of the new memorial. “The scale, the military men were much smaller in comparison to the mountain. I have no idea how he made it. It must have been a massive undertaking.
“But he was not only a sculptor, but a painter. Artistry runs through his family,” Ramirez added.
“The individual who crafted this thing was a Marine. What are Marines known for? We scrounge,” said Lt. Gen. David Berger, commanding general of 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.
“He built this thing in his garage, I’m figuring there’s some supply officer somewhere who’s missing a whole bunch of stuff,” Berger said.
“Corpsmen are our ‘docs.’ If you’ve ever served in a Marine unit, that’s what we called them — we just called them ‘docs’…it’s a term of endearment for us. For us, it means you’re a part of our brotherhood,” Berger said.
The phrase “Corpsman up,” means a lot to Marines. The corpsmen don’t wait for cover — they just get up and run toward the wounded. “It’s remarkable for us as Marines to watch. Even under fire, they don’t hear the fire. They just get up and run,” Berger said.
Speaking to the honors that corpsmen have received over the years, Deputy Surgeon General Rear Adm. C. Forrest Faison III, ran off several numbers: 22 corpsmen receiving the Medal of Honor, 178 received Navy Crosses, 30 received Distinguished Service Medals, 956 received the Silver Star, and 17 U.S. Navy ships have been named in honor of corpsmen.
In the current conflict 48 corpsmen have made the ultimate sacrifice to save and care for the Marines they love, Faison said.
In addition to the names of those that received awards or have their names on a wall, for every one of them, there’s 20 corpsmen. “And nobody will ever know their names except for those of us who served along side of them,” Berger said.