Former Corpsman Honored For Heroism
(April 13, 2010)
|Triangle, Va. (MCN - 4/9/2010) — In September 1967, the 1st
Marine Division headed Operation Swift, a search-and-destroy
operation the division undertook in Vietnam's Que Son
The valley, a narrow strip of arable rice land bordering the
South China Sea, became a battleground where the 5th Marines
and at least two regiments of ferocious, well-disciplined
North Vietnamese Army regulars converged, resulting in 114
American deaths and approximately 380 North Vietnamese.
Former Navy Hospital Man 2nd Class Dennis “Doc” Noah, a
20-year-old corpsman with Company H, 2nd Battalion, 5th
Marine Regiment, 1st MarDiv, found himself at the heart of
the fighting the night of Sept. 10, only six days into the
Noah began treating wounded Marines while his platoon was
within 10 meters of the enemy position. Badly wounded
himself, he crawled from man to man, and used his own body
for cover while he administered treatment. He quickly
depleted most of his medical supplies and had to improvise
tourniquets with the cloth from Marines' uniforms. When an
NVA regular tried to infiltrate the platoon's perimeter,
Noah shot him in the face at point-blank range with his
sidearm, a .45-caliber pistol. Then he moved all the wounded
away into relative safety before they were evacuated.
That was 42 years ago. Today Noah is as far removed from the
physical stress and horror of combat as the average
commercial banker, which is what he was for 39 years after
his discharge from the Navy. He now lives comfortably as a
professor of international business at Towson University in
Even with his considerable combat credentials, Noah was
nervous when he arrived at Quantico a day before he received
the Silver Star for his actions during an April 7 ceremony
at the National Museum of the Marine Corps.
|Former Navy Hospital Man 2nd Class Dennis "Doc" Noah, a corpsman with 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, during the Vietnam War, is awarded the Silver Star by the commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James T. Conway, during a ceremony April 7 at the National Museum of the Marine Corps.
“I'm humbled by the fact that a four-star general is going to pin a medal on
me,” he said as he stood in the lobby of his hotel.
As far as Noah is concerned, what he did all those years ago was nothing
“I didn't expect to get an award,” he said. “The Marines I was with were doing
their jobs, and I was doing mine to keep them alive.”
That wasn't exactly retired Lt. Col. Gene Bowers' point of view. Bowers was
Noah's company commander in Vietnam, and saw what he did to save the lives of
his men. Two years ago, he nominated Noah for the Silver Star.
“He [Noah] was 20 years old, trained in triage and highly skilled,” recalled
Bowers' memory of the day Noah helped save his company remains vivid.
“When he finished treating the men, he was covered in blood – not his,” said
Bower. “The whole time he never realized he was wounded. He was the only guy who
was moving around the whole time.”
For Noah, the choice to join the military amid the chaos of Vietnam came
naturally. His family immigrated to the American colonies in the 17th century,
and has fought in most major conflicts throughout the country's timeline.
Noah's ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War, and his father, a World War II
veteran, always flew an American flag at their home during Noah's childhood in
“Going to war is kind of a family tradition,” said Noah.
Noah wanted to study medicine, but was admittedly too immature for college.
Instead he joined the Navy. At the time, he was worried his chances of going to
combat were too low. In a later talk, a recruiter assured him that Vietnam was
full of corpsmen, and he was hooked.
He attended training at Naval Training Center Great Lakes, Ill., and was
assigned to the Fleet Marine Force at Camp Pendleton, Calif.
When he got orders to Vietnam with the rest of the division, he knew he was
where he needed to be. However, as the daily grind in Vietnam wore on and the
casualties piled up, Noah began to feel disillusioned.
“Vietnam kind of took the motivation out of me,” he said. “It was a funny war.
It's not the Marine Corps' fault that that particular war was fought the way it
was, so I don't blame the organization.”
As a young corpsman, Noah was unprepared for the psychological impact of seeing
so many Marines die in front of him.
“I got to know these guys,” he said. “A corpsman is more than just a field
doctor. We did preventive medicine and kept the Marines well. But when, for
example, a guy got a dear john letter from home, he would talk to his corpsman.
Or they'd have fears about the fighting and come talk to you.”
In this way, Noah became more than just the caretaker of the Marines' physical
well-being. He was an anchor of emotional stability for the men under his care.
“When you lost these guys, it just tore you apart,” he said. “A part of you
Noah said he remembers looking down at his hands after he had lost a Marine and
asking himself why he couldn't have done more.
“I reached a point where I didn't even want to know their names anymore,
especially when a new guy came along,” said Noah. “Because first you learn their
names, then the names of their girlfriends or wives back home, and then they're
like family. I needed to distance myself emotionally to be able to do my job.”
As for the day that would bring Noah to Quantico four decades later, he still
remembers every move the platoon made on its patrol through the small valley in
“We ran into several machine gun positions,” he remembered. “These guys were
well-disciplined NVA troops – not guerrilla fighters.”
The ceremony on April 7 was a quiet, low-key affair. There was no color guard or
band on call. And only about 40 seats had been reserved for Noah's family,
friends and colleagues.
Having his award ceremony at Leatherneck Gallery in the museum was Noah's
choice. He has traveled there before on the occasion of its opening.
“To me, the history that's in those halls – the information, the memorabilia
that's there – it's just double the honor to be in such a tremendous place and
in the presence of the commandant,” Noah said. “It's almost hallowed ground to
Article and photo By USMC LCpl. Lucas G. Lowe
Marine Corps Base Quantico
Marine Corps News
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