Marvin Grimm, who treated wounded Marines and served with them in combat as a Navy hospital corpsman during the Vietnam War, can speak from personal experience about the meaning of Memorial Day.
"Despite all of the tragedies that occurred, I take a lot of pride in the lives that I did save," he said.
Grimm, who earned two Purple Heart medals in the process, will give the keynote remarks Monday at the annual Bulloch County Memorial Day Remembrance hosted by American Legion Dexter Allen Post 90 in the Emma Kelly Theater. The free observance, open to everyone, will begin with at 10:30 a.m. with a musical performance, followed by the main program at 11 a.m.
"One of the biggest regrets I had after working on a Marine, if I lost him, I kept wishing I could have done more," Grimm said. "I guess that's just
something that every corpsman goes through, but I did save a lot of lives."
Originally from a small town in Saginaw County, Michigan, Grimm was a high school graduate three days past his 19th birthday when he volunteered for the Navy in 1966. When he went to Detroit for his physical, a man who asked him a series of questions told Grimm that because of his answers, he would be eligible to become a corpsman.
He had to ask what that was, and hearing that it meant working in a hospital, Grimm eagerly said that was what he wanted to do, he recalls.
"But I did not know that the Marines are a department of the Navy and they use us for all their medical purposes," Grimm said. "But I did OK. I mean, it was fine. I was proud to volunteer. I really wanted to. I wanted to serve, yeah, and I guess I wanted to serve in a branch of my choice."
Still 'Doc' to Marines
The Marines called him and other corpsmen "Doc," and Marines who know him still do. Grimm's actual medical education consisted of 13 weeks of corpsman training, which followed the regular Boot Camp required of all Navy recruits.
But he was taught "anatomy, physiology, pharmacology - everything I needed to know," he said. His first assignment was to Charleston Naval Hospital in South Carolina, for more than a year and a half.
Then Grimm was given four weeks of combat training and deployed to Vietnam for 12 months in 1968-69, a peak period of fighting. He did not work in a hospital there but served in the field with the 1st Marine Division.
Grimm was one of two corpsmen assigned to a company of perhaps about 100 Marines in a mountainous area somewhere north of Da Nang and a little west of Huê, he recalls.
Officially, as a corpsman, Grimm's assigned weapon was an M1911 Colt .45-caliber pistol. But he at times fired an M16 rifle and an M60 machine gun and even hurled hand grenades, he said. Sometimes he borrowed the weapons from injured Marines when there was a need to shoot back.
"I've worked on personnel under ponchos with the lights on, trying to work on them. Turn the lights off, put the poncho down, throw something and get back to work," Grimm said.
Of course, the Purple Heart is the medal for U.S. warriors wounded or killed while on duty. Neither of Grimm's two injuries was disabling. The more severe came in a rocket attack that started around 4 a.m., while he was asleep. He recalls rushing out the wrong end of his tent in the confusion, thinking his gear had been stolen, when it was in the other direction.
Fragments struck Grimm in the leg, but the only medical attention he sought at first was to have the other corpsman wrap his leg in a bandage. Then they treated the wounded Marines.
"As daylight approached, you know, I'm treating personnel throughout the darkness, and it gets lighter. I realized that earlier when I was hiding behind what I thought was a rock, it was nothing but a tent," Grimm said, laughing about it now.
After he spent several hours treating dozens of wounded men that morning, the seriously injured were evacuated in helicopters. Then Grimm spent a couple of weeks in a hospital at the base in Da Nang as a patient.
The wound that brought the second Purple Heart did not require hospitalization, he said. He also received it during a night attack.
After Grimm's year in Vietnam, he served briefly at the Marine Corps Recruiting Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina, and was discharged from the Navy in December 1969. He had never set foot on a ship.
"Did I ever have problems coming back home? No," Grimm said. "Now, I would dream. I would dream I'd never make it. In my dreams, either I was caught in a hole or the jeep fell off the cliff, and I think what that was, was realizing, I made it. I get a 10 percent disability because of my wounds, but I actually made it, when there were so many guys that didn't make it."
Now 70, Grimm is junior vice commander of American Legion Dexter Allen Post 90. He and his wife, Terri, who is originally from Statesboro, moved here seven years ago.
Post 90 Senior Vice Commander Dan Foglio, lead organizer of the Memorial Day observances, said he will be honored to give Grimm's introduction.
"He didn't hit 50 home runs. He didn't score 30 baskets and he didn't throw 15 TDs, but in my book, he's a true American and he's a real hero," Foglio said.
Grimm's theme will be the flag and the sacrifice and heroism it represents. Jack Kindig and His Music Messengers will perform the 10:30 a.m. musical prelude. The 11 a.m. service includes readings by local and state officials and veterans of all the services, including the intoning of names of Bulloch County's war dead.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.